Twenty-something Megan is a software developer who switched from full-time to a 30-hour workweek. Why? What’s working? What’s her advice to employers?
This is our fifth blog for our “Inside Voices” series, periodic interviews of professionals at different points in the employee lifecycle, to hear about their experiences and insights around skills and competencies.
Megan is a twenty-something software developer who joined her employer, a research and engineering services company, working 40 hours a week but later reduced her weekly schedule to 30 hours. Today, she has her master’s degree and is a lead user interface developer on several projects, working about 35 hours weekly. In this “Inside Voices” edition, we share the reasons she moved to six-hour workdays, what works, and what advice she has for employers.
If you’ve been thinking about offering reduced-hour workdays or reduced-day workweeks at your organization, Megan’s story may inspire you to pilot the practice with your team.
Avilar: When you were looking for your first job after college, you were a new software developer with a 4-year degree in computer science and internship experience. For your first job after college, did you seek out an employer with a flexible work schedule?
Megan: Ever since I first experienced a 40-hour workweek as a software development intern, I had been thinking about working a reduced schedule. When I first started the internship, it was a shock to the system. My brain was absolutely exhausted at the end of the day. After several weeks, I did get used to the schedule of commuting back and forth and working eight hours a day. But I was also aware that the work requires a lot of thinking, and that I cannot produce work for eight hours a day.
Then, at the end of my internship, the company offered me a permanent job and it was for 40 hours. At the time, I just assumed I would get hired at 40 hours.
Avilar: Why did you decide to work at this research and engineering company?
Megan: They are a great place to work! They pay well. They have amazing, comprehensive benefits. They pay for continuing education. People are super nice. Everyone is helpful. Everyone is smart. If you want to speak to an expert in any field, you just send them an email. The company touches so many different technical areas that you can always find work in another department or on another project if you’re ready for something new or want to continue your career development.
Avilar: When did you first start thinking about a reduced-hour workweek?
Megan: When I was in college, I was exposed to the idea that people were working harder than they needed to, just for company gain. The companies were getting as much out of their employees as they could. I also learned about the labor disputes and union efforts of the late 1800s and early 1900s that pushed for a maximum 40-hour work week, down from about 60 hours or more that many people worked. The slogan for the labor union movement was, “Eight hours for rest, eight hours for work, and eight hours for what you will.”
But for modern workers that’s not even true – you’re commuting, and you have other obligations in the evenings. More recent studies say a 40-hour-a-week schedule is just not working for people.
Avilar: What prompted you to initiate a change in your work schedule?
Megan: About halfway through earning my master’s degree, I was working full-time and absolutely exhausted. There was not one thing that prompted me to make the change, but I do remember being on the phone with my mentor and breaking down. I was tired. I couldn’t think. She said, “We need to find a solution for this,” and suggested that I drop a class or work less.
I didn’t want to drop the class because I wanted to get my degree as fast as possible. And I knew that part-time work was a possibility at my company, so that’s the way I went.
Avilar: What was it like to get the schedule change approved and implemented?
Megan: I just talked to my supervisor, saying I wanted to work 30 hours a week. They accepted it right away. I emailed my project managers to let them know I’d have fewer hours available. We agreed to see if there was any productivity issue.
My supervisor was very understanding. There is policy support for the change, but she was very supportive.
Avilar: How does it work?
Megan: My base schedule is 30 hours a week, or six hours a day. If I work extra hours — up to 40 — I get paid for those hours. Now that I’ve graduated with my master’s degree, my minimum is still 30 hours, but I typically work 35 to make a little more money.
Avilar: In what ways does your employer support your schedule?
Megan: Being transparent about the policies is huge. It makes it easier to make the request and I know who to go to for everything.
The company also already has great flexibility with work hours – people come and go at different times and do hybrid work, so it’s not immediately obvious who is working part time.
My work is the same as everyone else, so I have the same opportunities as others. I’ve been in the job for a few years and I’m now the lead user interface developer on several projects and I have tasked junior developers on projects over the years.
Avilar: What works about your work schedule?
Megan: I feel like a six-hour day is the best. It helps me focus. And the studies say that, too.
Even when I was studying at night, I could discipline myself to focus on four hours of productive work every day, in two-hour chunks. And two hours of meetings. And then I could go home!
I’m free to go for a walk in the daylight. It’s the basics of taking care of myself. I put in my work and then I can rest. 35 is my max hours.
Avilar: What doesn’t work?
Megan: It’s not that it doesn’t work. It is culturally difficult, sometimes.
In the beginning, I worried that people were judging me, thinking, “Oh, look at Megan. She’s leaving early.” It is an inconvenience to others when you’re not available all the time they want you to be available. But it’s part of how the company operates.
And socially, if I get out of work at 3:00, no one else is available then. All my friends work full time and many of them wake up late and stay late.
Also, for my job, it’s not easy to measure productivity. For some jobs, it’s easy to use a checklist or count results to see what gets done and, for them, they get less done in fewer hours. For software development, it’s a thinking job. There really is only so much productivity that can happen in a day, regardless of the number of hours you work.
Avilar: What advice do you have for business leaders and managers whose employees are seeking a reduced-hour schedule?
Megan: I suggest that employers listen to their employees and really understand what set-up would help make them most efficient and effective. For me, the support I received enabled me to feel like I could make this change, still do my work at a high level, and have better balance. But if my company didn’t support this kind of flexibility, or if my supervisor and project team members weren’t as receptive, it would have made it far more difficult for me.
For some jobs, it’s easy to use a checklist or count results to see what gets done and, for them, they get less done in fewer hours. For software development, it’s a thinking job. There really is only so much productivity that can happen in a day, regardless of the number of hours you work.
Avilar: What one thing do you want people to remember after reading this blog?
Megan: Employee productivity isn’t just about the number of hours worked. Both the company and its employees benefit when employees are rested and feel supported in all areas – pay, benefits, and the work schedule itself.
Thank you, Megan, for sharing your story! We wish you all the best for all that’s ahead in your career.
Editors’ note: After talking with Megan, we explored the trend of more organizations introducing shorter workweeks. It’s not just happening in the U.S. Australia and the U.K. both piloted four-day workweeks and many people said no amount of money could make them go back to 40 hours. The companies liked it, too. In the U.K. pilot, of the 61 companies that participated, 56 (92%) are continuing with the four-day workweek, with 30 percent confirming the policy is a permanent change.
If you’re thinking of exploring flexible work schedules to support your top work culture, help attract skilled employees for whom a 40-hour week is a challenge, or help retain the valuable employees you have today, our 3 Secrets to Winning the War for Talent can help you ensure your workforce has the skills and competencies you need. Or contact us to find out how Avilar’s WebMentor Skills™ competency management systems could support your next steps.
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