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Structured Work Hours or Flexible? Which One Has a Positive Impact on Motivation.

A survey conducted in 2019 showed that 80% of the workers opt for companies that provide flexible work schedules. The pandemic has only made this preference even more robust, with the employees becoming more inclined to the option to work when and where they want. This has been favorable for several people, particularly those struggling to balance work with caregiving responsibilities alongside the usual busyness or even a demanding personal life. Of course, there are downsides to everything, and research has proved that this too has some.

What Does Research Show?

Results from the research conducted by almost 2,000 employees and students in U.S. and Europe showed that working unusual hours like weekends or holidays significantly reduced their intrinsic motivation, making work less attractive and enjoyable. Even though there has been increased acceptance of working non-standard times, societal norms have clearly described when it is appropriate to work. The 9-to-5 work hour remains firmly immersed in our culture – Google Doodles and similar consumer products rebrand for holidays, and several schools and businesses remain closed on weekends, evenings, and holidays.

At times, going against the norm feels empowering. Still, it can also reduce our motivation to work during the survey, when the employees were asked how they feel about their work first during a regular day and then one week later when working on a federal holiday. The results showed that motivation and enjoyment fall considerably when told to work on a holiday, despite both days being Monday and employees being involved in similar work-related activities.

However, there is always a solution to everything. By intentionally shifting the employees’ mindsets, you can still withhold their motivation while getting the most out of the flexible schedule. This theory was tested in the initial experiment. Full-time employees were told to imagine themselves working on the weekend. One group was told about how their time could have been spent better by doing non-work-related activities like going out with friends or binge-watching a movie. In contrast, the other group was asked to think of how they were more productive by catching up on work. A control group was asked to ponder upon how they would feel working at this time.

What is the Impact of these Differences?

Although these differences might not be apparent, they seem to have a considerable impact. Having the second group focus on the benefits of working on the weekend helped these employees normalize working during non-traditional work time, which resulted in around 23% of them being more interested and involved with their work than the other groups. On the contrary, the control group thought they would be just as demotivated as the first group. From this observation, it can be concluded that you can use the mind-shifting intervention of the people when working during non-standard work time by shifting their focus on how their time could be spent in a better way by being engaged in non-work activities.

This was also tested on the students working in a campus library during Spring Break. This time for one group of students was reframed as standard work hours by provoking them to think about how people use their Spring Break to plan their future regarding their work, while the other group went with the social norm about how this time is spent to enjoy and relax. The result showed that 15% of the people in the first group are more intrinsically motivated to finish their work.

Key Takeaways

Although through these experiments, you can provoke people to change their mindsets, there are still certain situations where we are reminded of the social norms of our culture, which impact how we feel about our work. You might be excited about working on Sundays instead of Friday. Still, when you look through your calendar, you get a reality-check that you are working on the weekend, which automatically dampens your mood and reduces your willingness to work, which in turn may lead to an increase in employee turnover or them leaving the company. To enjoy flexible work hours without compromising your capability to remain motivated, find ways to shift your mindset proactively.

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