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German Company Tests 5-Hour Workday – But Bans Workers From Their Phones

One company in Germany is letting employees work five hours a day — as long as they don’t mind giving up their phones.

The Wall Street Journal’s Eric Morath recently reported on Rheingans Digital Enabler, a Bielefeld-based consulting firm that only operates five hours a day. Lasse Rheingans, the company’s chief officer, said he implemented a shorter workday to allow for more time with his children.

But to ensure his company can run at the same efficiency in a smaller timeframe, Rheingans mandates employees put their phone away and that they keep small talk to a minimum. Workers only check company emails twice a day, and meetings are typically 15 minutes or shorter.

While increasing in popularity, flexible work options are still uncommon in the US. One 2018 survey of employers found only 23% of companies offer flexible or remote working options. The US does not have guidelines for companies on how to provide flexible work hours.

Research says some aspects of Rheingans’ five-hour workday could boost productivity.

Take smartphones: A 2017 University of Texas-Austin study found that if subjects were in the same room as any iPhone (even one that’s not turned on and not theirs) basic intelligence, memory, and attention scores all dip. Humans have an emotional attachment to phones, researchers theorized, which is why they can be more distracting than other everyday objects.

Overworking yourself can also have detrimental impacts on your body. Sahar Yousef, a cognitive neuroscientist who consults companies on how to boost performance, said going 22 hours without sleep has the same biological impacts as having a 0.08 blood alcohol concentration. Taking breaks and maintaining a stable blood glucose level (i.e., snacking) all help you get more done.

Creating more opportunities for work-life balance could also help tackle the issue of employee burnout. Americans work some of the highest hours compared to employees in other developed countries. Perhaps, as a result, over half of Americans say work has negatively impacted their mental health.

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