Are Shorter Working Hours A Tall Order?

Despite John Maynard Keynes’ well-known prediction that staff in 2030 would work a 15-hour week, working hours in recent years have been increasing.

It may come as a surprise to hear that working shorter hours might actually be a good idea. Economists say that a shorter working day has a ‘triple dividend’ creating three distinct benefits: lower unemployment; reduced ecological and carbon footprints; and higher individual wellbeing. The New Economics Foundation has stated that a 30-hour week could elicit those benefits whilst being workable from a business perspective. Employers may well find that that the change would bring benefits in productivity.

A number of companies across Sweden have made international news for making this a reality by trialling a 6-hour working day. The reports so far have been positive; a care home taking part in the trial noticed an increase in staff welfare as well as a higher standard of care for patients. Meanwhile, a software company has had the policy in place for a year by reducing numbers of staff meetings and asking employees to limit time spent on personal tasks whilst at work. In fact, shorter working patterns have been in use to good effect for some years now, and not just in Sweden – average hours worked in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany are considerably shorter than in the UK.

Whilst the 6-hour working day does not seem to have caught on in the UK so far, all is not lost for staff. Employees who feel that they would work better with a shorter working day can make a flexible working request so long as they have 26 weeks’ continuous employment. That being said, employers are not obliged to accept these requests and can refuse on the basis of any of a number of different business reasons, such as the burden of additional costs or a detrimental impact on the ability to meet customer demand.

Either way, it may not be long before employers ditch the ‘time is money’ idea and start to see the value in working smarter, not harder.