In an internal memo to its employees, a HR practitioner at Google said that the average employee at the tech giant works more than a normal nine-to-five day.
The message was a response to an employee who had asked the company if he could work fewer hours across more days of the week.
“Most salaried Googlers already work longer than 8-hour days on the days they’re working,” the HR representative said. “Nobody is 120% FTE (Full Time Employee) for working a normal FT job at Google, so working a compressed 100% schedule isn’t really realistic.”
The message also outlined that the company allows its workforce to apply for schedules that are 60% or 80% of a full-time role.
This memo highlights a few interesting ideas about what employers expect from their workforce. Afterall, if workers get all of their necessary tasks done, does it matter if they don’t work an entire eight-hour day? Also, when all of the tasks on their to-do list have been ticked off, should employees always be ‘finding something to do’?
An eight-hour day
You might as well be asking ‘how long is a piece of string?’ when attempting to question how long it takes employees to fulfil their daily tasks. The amount of time employees spend working is completely dependent on the company, their job role, and types of tasks required of them.
Especially since the emergence of remote work, it’s become even more pressing for business leaders to trust their workforce to carry out tasks effectively. When employees were working in the office, their managers could easily see they were present at work. Generally, the ongoing struggle between remote and in-person work illustrates that even if employees produce the same amount of work, employers ‘feel’ as though they are doing more work just by being in the office, even if they aren’t.
Additionally, if an employee finishes all the tasks that are required of them to a high standard in a period that’s shorter than the working day, most employers expect staff to find something to do. In this sense, employers feel staff should go beyond their typical duties to add value to the company in ways that potentially go beyond the duties of their role.
The four-day work week, which has been taken up by most of the companies who took part in the UK’s first trial of the shorter week, also emphasises the ability of employees to do the same amount of work in a shorter space of time. This type of model would require businesses to set clear weekly goals, so that staff know what they must produce every week.
Robert Ordever, European MD of workplace culture specialist O.C. Tanner, feels that observing employee demands for flexibility is a part of viewing staff as people and not just a means to an end.
"When organisations see employees as people—and not just a means of production—flexibility appears reasonable, even smart,” Ordever says. “More than just life balance, workplace flexibility is about having a sense of governance over our work and our time. Employees want some choice in how they accomplish their work, some autonomy over their time at work, and some time for interests and skills outside of work. Traditionally, flexibility has been a perk that employees earned as a reward for doing great work or only given to some types of employees but not others. In today’s workplace, flexibility must be available—and equitable—for everyone.
“Giving employees flexibility demonstrates that the organisation values its people and has confidence they’ll manage themselves to get work done. And if organisations want to retain their people, keep them engaged and thriving, and attract new talent, then providing workplace flexibility for all is vital."
As AI increasingly becomes augmented into job roles, staff across many industries and in many different types of roles will have more free time. From an employer’s perspective, you would hope that employees are using any time freed up by AI, such as ChatGPT, to develop their skills or perform other tasks – essentially being able to do more work.
This is a difficult thing for employers to monitor as most companies don’t have specific policies around the use of tech such as ChatGPT yet – meaning that workers could currently be getting paid the same amount to do less work. This is likely to be a challenge employers across the world will soon have to navigate.
Momentous and unprecedented shifts currently happening in businesses, such as the integration of AI, four-day week, and remote work, are all challenging perceptions we have of what a ‘working day’ is. Traditionally, being at your desk for eight hours a day signified to your employer that you’re working. Whereas today, results, and the quality and amount of output, have become the main way businesses can gauge whether staff are working hard or hardly working. However, with the emergence of super-tech such as AI, the ability of staff to produce more in less time is ever-present – with this likely to be a challenge for businesses in the years to come.