Huffington Post: With shorter hours, you “reduce the risk of people infecting each other” at work

I’m quoted in the Huffington Post about the shorter workweek and its benefits for post-COVID businesses:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising employers to keep staff, visitors, and customers six feet apart, and cubicles are making a comeback. Companies are ordering permanent wall dividers and plastic “sneeze guards” that separate desks, according to office furniture suppliers.

But there is one top CDC recommendation that doesn’t require getting new equipment, and it’s something employers may already be doing to foster a safe working environment: flexible work arrangements.

Reducing working hours without reducing pay is one way for companies to enforce social distancing during this pandemic, said Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of “Shorter: Work Better, Smarter, and Less — Here’s How.”

However, to make this happen, it’ll be necessary to deal with another problem: the enduring plague of presenteeism in modern business.

To allow ideas like four-day workweeks and schedule flexibility to happen, employers need to combat “presenteeism,” said Dawna Ballard, who researches time as a form of communication at the University of Texas at Austin. Presenteeism is the “idea of showing up for the sake of being there, even when your mental and physical state means your productivity will be lower,” she said….

Stopping presenteeism culture begins with having paid sick leave and job security, so people can feel safe enough to stay home and not work, Ballard said. Right now, if people think they need to show up to work even when they are unwell, it’s not only a productivity-killer ― it’s a health hazard. That’s why this pandemic can be practical catalyst for companies to introduce flexible policies that are “physiologically ideal” and not have “one sick employee come into work and infect the rest of [their] organization,” Ballard said.

However, moving to a 4-day week is a great way for companies to orient their culture away from presenteeism and a belief that long hours equal higher productivity, and toward a culture that values efficiency and skill. As the saying goes, you don’t pay a locksmith (or doctor) for 20 minutes of their time; you pay them for the 20 years of training and experience that lets them do the job well in 20 minutes.

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