anthropology · behavior · environment · Social

Letting the seasons influence work hours

English: New York, New York. Newsroom of the N...
Do you find yourself more or less productive during certain times of the year? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this blog I often talk about play and creating space for play in our busy lives.  A recent article in Good magazine discussed the idea of changing our work habits to match the seasons, making more room for play (or at least less work time) in the summer:

Jason Fried, CEO of 37Signals, recently wrote for the New York Times that his company’s work schedules change with the seasons.

“For example, from May through October, we switch to a four-day workweek. And not 40 hours crammed into four days, but 32 hours comfortably fit into four days. We don’t work the same amount of time, we work less.”

We work less, he says. I can imagine it’s pretty easy to get buy-in for that idea around the office.

“When there’s less time to work, you waste less time. When you have a compressed workweek, you tend to focus on what’s important. Constraining time encourages quality time.”

This is a pretty rare set-up, but I have worked at places where they did offer 4 10-hour days in the summer, or 4 9-hour days and a half day on Friday, or some other kind of flexibility so people could take advantage of the nice weather. Europeans will often take a month off in later summer for vacation.

First, I think this is a great idea, and I think Fried makes a good argument that with less work time, people will prioritize work and really get the essential stuff done. From an anthropologist’s perspective, however, this dichotomy of summer equaling less time in the office, and theoretically less work, I find somewhat interesting, since as humans we traditionally tend to be MORE active and alert when we have more sunlight. In winter there was traditionally less food and worse weather conditions, so we would stay inside, hunkering down with our tribe or family, and maybe catch up on repairing clothing or tools. Late spring (when it stays light the longest) and late summer/early fall (just after the hottest temperatures) was a time of planting, hunting, gathering, harvesting, and getting stores up for the long winter months.

Today, we still hunker down inside during the colder months, but I find it interesting that this has translated into a tendency to stay inside busy over paperwork or computer work while summer, our traditionally busier work time, has become a time associated with leisure and play, or at least that’s what many of us would like it to be.

What are your thoughts? Do you like the idea of having work schedules that adjust with the seasons? Do you find yourself more or less productive in summer or winter, ignoring factors like kids home from school, etc.? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.