27 September 2023

Marking time? Should the working day fit within school hours?

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Corinne Purtill* says a prominent US academic has suggested ending the work day at 3pm to accommodate the mismatch between school and work hours.

Photo: Miguel Á. Padriñán

Recently, in response to an Atlantic article pointing out the confounding mismatch between the average child’s school schedule and the average parent’s working one, Wharton University Professor Adam Grant offered a solution: what if we all just left the office around the same time kids leave school?

“Instead of making school days longer, let’s make work days shorter: they should finish at 3 pm,” Grant posted on LinkedIn.

“We can be as productive and creative in 6 focused hours as in 8 unfocused hours.”

It’s a suggestion in line with a growing movement across industries to rethink longstanding norms about how work should get done — norms created in an earlier economy, at a time when the technology to accommodate flexible work did not exist.

Psychologist Laura Carstensen, the founding director of the Stanford Centre on Longevity, has suggested restructuring careers to accommodate more breaks and returns over a longer total span.

She’s long advocated that apprenticeships, education, and part-time work extend well through a worker’s thirties — which often are also the years in which people are raising young children.

Grant’s back-of-the-napkin idea sounds simple enough, but putting it into effect would require systemic changes, beyond having workers simply focus more intensely during their day.

Some jobs demand an amount of work that’s difficult to compress into eight hours a day.

If workers are already stressed, cutting the number of hours they have in which to do their work but not the amount of work that must be done is counterproductive.

And, as educator Rachael Mann pointed out in response to Grant’s LinkedIn post, there is one group of workers who can’t sign off at the same time children get out of school: teachers, who still have hours of preparation and grading to do before running out to get their own kids from after-school care.

* Corinne Purtill is a reporter for Quartz. She tweets at @corinnepurtill.

This article first appeared at qz.com.

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