Publish date

31 May 2019

Work-life balance

The UK has the longest working week in Europe but before we pat ourselves on the back too much for being such dedicated workers, there is evidence to suggest we are not working as productively as our European counterparts. New research from the TUC suggests that:

  • The average worker in Germany works 1.8 hours less per week than their UK counterpart but is 14.6% more productive
  • Denmark workers, who have the shortest working week in Europe and work 4 hours less than UK workers per week are 23.5% more productive.

These figures are quite remarkable but complement recent economists’ ruminations that longer hours do not necessarily mean higher company profits and economic growth. Other commentators agree and state that a shorter week improves not only productivity but also the wellbeing of staff.

Some notable examples of employers reducing the working week include:

  • Henry Ford, adopting the 5 day, 40-hour week which boosted profits
  • Kelloggs in the 1930s implementing shorter hours, reducing accidents by 41%
  • Pursuit Marketing moved 120 staff in 2016 to a 4-day week which resulted in 30% increased productivity
  • Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand trust business reported 20% increase after switching 240 employees to a four day week.

One company that had looked to join the shorter-hour club was Wellcome Trust who, in January 2019, announced plans to switch their head office staff, some 800 individuals to a 4-day week in the Autumn of 2019. The plan was that the staff would have Fridays off with no reduction in pay.

However, following a three month study, the plans have been scrapped. Ed Whiting Director of policy and Chief of Staff commented that it had become too operationally complex and benefited some areas over others. However, concerns were held that the changes would have impacted on employees wellbeing in other areas such as IT, finance and/or HR.

The movement for shorter hours in the UK is picking up speed and has been considered by Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell. Other commentators, such as Frances O’Grady TUC General Secretary state that longer hours are depriving people of fulfilling their personal lives.

The shorter week is not embraced by everyone and a study by the University of Auckland found that those working a shorter week were actually more stressed because of the shorter lengths of time to complete tasks. This feeds in to other commentators views that people would attempt to cram in five days worth of work in four.

Our thoughts

There is clearly a lot to be said on whether longer hours equates to greater productivity. Certainly in the UK, despite us working an average 42 hour week meaning we work 2 more hours per week and two and half more weeks per year than our European counterparts we are not as productive to those who work fewer hours.

Indeed, common sense tells us that when we work long hours and we get tired, mistakes can happen and that’s when claims can arise. Further, we know, through other studies, that overwork is one of the main reasons for sickness absence and has the possibility of becoming a mental health issue. With these kinds of statistics, it’s then not hard to see why there is such a push in the UK for shorter hours, to benefit both the workforce and company alike.

A shorter work week was also tabled following a recent survey through YouGov which tracked 2,005 employees in the UK. The findings were:

  • 34% felt more stressed than they did 2 years ago
  • 66% said that they were stressed because of a higher workload
  • 27% said that they were stressed because of a lack of control over their work.

When it came to considering what possibilities could reduce their stress, the favoured solution, chosen by 30%, agreed that a 4 day week would be the most effective solution.

We appreciate that not every workplace can introduce a 4 day work week. However, you can try to strike the right work-life balance. Perhaps by introducing flexible working, home working, core hours etc. This will have a positive influence on your employees which, if the statistics are to be believed, will then be paid back to you in increased productivity. Though you should ensure that people do not work flat-out for the time that they are working in the office.

As a final note, we thought we would leave you with a particularly thought-provoking and poignant quote from Adrian Moorehouse, Managing Director at Lane4:

“A four-day working week today probably equates to the traditional five-day week of 30 years ago in terms of the amount of information we digest and the outputs we produce!”

For more information, visit The Guardian article: Wellcome Trust drops plans to trial four-day working week.

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