A 5-hour day in Germany: working less and more intensively

Written by Sarah Spitz, on 07 January 2020

In 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that in the era of his grandchildren, human working hours would be only 3 hours per day. While we're not quite there yet (although some entrepreneurs boast of working only 4 hours per week), several companies have experimented with a 5-hour workday. However, several conditions need to be met for it to work.

Before acquiring Digital Enabler, Lasse Rheingans was an employee in a company. In order to spend more time with his children, he requested a salary decrease in exchange for two afternoons off per week. After a few months, it became evident that he was producing as much as before, but in less time. So, when he took over Rheingans Digital Enabler ('RDE'), he decided to implement a 5-hour workday with salary levels and vacation days equivalent to a traditional workweek.

Of course, Lasse Rheingans conducted some research before diving into the deep end. He came across the case of Tower Paddle Boards, a California-based company that produced paddle boards and implemented a 5-hour workday in 2015 (along with a profit-sharing of 5%). Although the company ended this practice in 2017, deeming that it had lost its "startup culture," this story immediately inspired him.

How it works on a daily basis

The 16 employees of RDE arrive at 8 a.m. and leave at 1 p.m., having lunch afterward. However, these 5 hours of work, to be as productive as the 8 hours of a traditional workday, have some special rules. Phones remain silent in bags, employees are not allowed to check social networks, and they avoid chatting between work periods. The idea is to reduce working hours by increasing the intensity of concentration and production (which reminds us of another article published here).

We have all experienced that: We sit in the office, out of energy, reading newspapers online or Facebook, just in need of the little pauses to recharge, but you don’t really recharge (…) My idea is focusing on the first five hours and then just leave, and have a proper break. - Lasse Rheingans

To promote this intensity, not only are personal breaks reduced, but also elements of distraction, even those related to work: emails are checked twice within the 5 hours, and meetings usually last 15 minutes.

It is important to note that, like elsewhere, emergencies may arise for RDE employees. And, like elsewhere, sometimes overtime may be necessary to complete a project on time.

What impact does it have on clients, employees?

On the client side, RDE's clients are satisfied, noting that the company is as efficient as before.

Work is not a place, nor a duration. It's an activity. - Lasse Rheingans

On the employees' side, online sources indicate that they are happy, although some admit there is additional pressure compared to a longer workday: the pressure to accomplish as much in less time. Which is the desired effect.

Of course, this type of schedule is not possible in every sector. Firstly, a client may not want to adapt to a supplier who is available in the morning but not in the afternoon. In industry, reducing working hours would reduce mechanical production time and therefore overall activity. Other sectors require 24/7 presence, on-call duties...

However, this doesn't prevent us from drawing fundamental principles from this practice, as identified by Stephan Aarstol, the CEO of Tower Paddle Boards:

  • Adapting to the observation that 80% of production is done in 20% of working time
  • Viewing work not as time but as an objective to achieve, a deliverable to produce
  • Getting rid of the self-imposed injunction to be "at your disposal"
  • Using technology to automate whatever can be automated

And you, would you be willing to work only 5 hours a day?