The Better Work Toolkit: A Science-Based Approach to Designing Work-Life Solutions that Work

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The Better Work Toolkit: A Science-Based Approach to Designing Work-Life Solutions that Work
New America
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Brigid Schulte

Getting work right, and taking even small steps at the individual, team, and organizational levels to redesign the way flexibility, collaboration, and autonomy work is of paramount importance. American knowledge workers log among the longest and most extreme hours of any advanced economy, with four in 10 working at least 50 hours a week.[3] Busyness and long work hours have become badges of honor. New “efficient” scheduling technology to match labor with demand has created chaos in the schedules of many hourly workers. American families are feeling ever more harried, worried they aren’t spending enough time with family,[4] and putting in 11 more hours of work a week than they did in the 1970s.[5] More than half of American workers didn’t take all of their vacation in 2015, leaving 658 million days unused.[6] Despite the fact that women have been graduating from college in greater numbers than men since the mid-1980s, women are overrepresented in low-wage work and stuck in middle-management.[7] Levels of stress, anxiety, disengagement, and burnout at work are high.[8] Today’s stressful workplace is the fifth leading cause of death in America. Workplace-associated health care costs as much as the $174 billion spent every year on diabetes care.[9] “The workplace has become hazardous to our health,” said Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of organizational psychology at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.

The answer is not to jettison flexibility, collaboration, and autonomy, but rather, to use an understanding of human psychology to redesign work systems in order for individuals, teams and organizations to use them more skillfully. In this toolkit, we outline the challenges, best practices and promising new ideas to ease four particularly thorny choke points—reducing e-mail overload, inefficient meetings, and long work hours, and increasing restful time off—based on universal behavioral science principles.