What happened when a Kitchener company cut the work day by two hours

Work less, accomplish more: That's the idea behind a Kitchener company's decision to shorten its work day by two hours.

Employees at Plasticity Labs say they're more productive when they leave work at 3 p.m.

Jim Moss (far right) said reducing hours at Plasticity Labs has made the team more purposeful when at the office. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

Jim Moss felt his life couldn't get much more ironic.

His job title: Chief happiness officer of Plasticity Labs, a Kitchener company that helps businesses assess workplace culture and boost employee happiness. 

His reality: Burnt out and often unhappy.

Determined to correct this imbalance, Moss and his four employees made a simple, radical change nine months ago.

They decided to work fewer hours.

Instead of ending the day at 5 p.m., the team would start at 9 a.m. and leave by 3 p.m.

Moss said his team had long told companies that flexible work hours and work-life balance were key to happiness and productivity, and felt they needed to practice what they preached.

"We know there's a lot of data around when we're most productive throughout the day ... And so the least amount of high-quality work gets done at the end of the day," said Moss.

"We looked at what are the things that we are doing or not doing outside of work to be healthy and happy. And the two biggest contributors are physical activity and then time with our families."

As soon as Moss cut work hours, he had more time for both his family and regular exercise. He noticed he was not only happier, but able to take on more at the office.

"I've got more not just physical energy, but cognitive and emotional energy available to do the work," said Moss.

Win for employees

Dave Whiteside, director of research at Plasticity Labs, said he was skeptical about the idea of cutting his workday by two hours.

"We're a very tiny team with a heavy workload," he said.

"The idea of losing a couple hours every day seemed initially like it was a potential issue. But I think it's allowed us to be more mindful of the time that we do have as well as the time that we've now been given back."

Whiteside walks his dog and gets to the gym every day with the extra time. It doesn't mean he won't check his email when he's home or work on evenings and weekends. But the team says they try to limit the amount of work they do outside of office hours, and they have the flexibility to then adjust their hours during the week if they're putting in too much time outside of work.

It's only been about a month since Katherine Lewis started at Plasticity Labs as an office coordinator and executive assistant. She says she was surprised and delighted by the hours.

"I have a number of the volunteer roles and [the hours] allows me to be able to give them more of my time and not have to worry about what's happening back at work or feeling nervous about needing to take that time," said Lewis.

'Times have changed'

Shorter work weeks isn't a new concept. Flexible and reduced working hours is a more common practice in Scandinavian countries, such as Sweden.

Anita Boey, who teaches at the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics at Laurier University, says shorter workdays are proven to boost happiness and productivity.

"[Workers] are much happier because they know that after work they've got plans with family, they've got plans with friends," said Boey.

"So there's something to look forward to at the end of the day rather than going back and you're so tired and you need to to get back to work the next day."

But actually making a transition to shorter hours isn't something Boey sees catching on.

"I believe that it's so much ingrained in our system right now that we believe a 9 to 5 job is is good. It's traditional. It's what gets people productive. Those are beliefs that we've been relying on and the times have changed."

Jim Moss acknowledges the idea of cutting hours may not necessarily work in a larger company.

With five employees, Plasticity Labs was able to introduce the idea of shorter hours one week, and implement them the next.

"I think that in the existing infrastructure of larger organizations it will die on its way up the ladder," said Moss.

"The business case for it is still there. But I think that the implicit assumptions that we need to be here longer to get our work done are very strong currently."