Will Reducing Working Hours Increase Productivity?
During the last year, Swedish companies have been introducing the six hour working day and one company in the UK has decided to take the same approach – spurred on by a challenge from BBC’s The One Show. The six hour working day concept is designed to increase productivity and give employees a better work life balance. There has been a lot of noise around how this will work (if indeed it will!) which has had many in the UK questioning whether the country will follow in Sweden’s footsteps and if in fact, it is possible to get more done in a shorter period of time.
Low Productivity in the UK
The UK has been experiencing low productivity since the recession began in 2008. The latest reports from the ONS show that UK workers are around 30 percent less productive than those in the US, Germany and France.
Many factors contribute to low productivity from the skills shortages and inadequate management to a lack of career progression and poor job design.
However, above all productivity is closely linked to employee engagement. All of the factors described above, plus many more, affect whether an employee is engaged in their work.
Is the 6 hour day the answer to low productivity?
According to Toyota, who implemented this change back in 2002, the shorter work week is worth it. The company has reported happier staff, low turnover and increased profit (The Independent).
Less stressed employees perform better, and are happier and more engaged in their job resulting in a lower turnover for business. It can be difficult to stay in a concentrated state at work for eight hours, but with a shorter working day, focusing can be easier and procrastination a thing of the past.
Employees with the option to work a shorter day are more motivated. According to a worker at one of Sweden’s retirement homes, time is now seen as more valuable than money.
“It [time] is a strong motivational factor to be able to go home two hours earlier. You still want to do a good job and be productive during six hours, so I think you focus more and are more efficient.” (The Guardian)
Toyota has successfully implemented the change but the rest of Sweden is still in trial. Businesses in Sweden have agreed to trial the shorter week day to evaluate the impact on employee and client satisfaction as well as the cost to business.
A shorter working day is a noble idea but some obstacles could make it difficult in practice:
- Reducing working hours could prevent companies working with countries in a different time zone. Although, arranging a day of starting and finishing later to ensure interaction at least once a week could be the solution.
- In this society of ‘always switched-on’, working less hours in the office could mean working more at home to get things done. Businesses would need to implement working practice to avoid employees having to be always online.
- Millennials want businesses to focus efforts on providing flexible work arrangements rather than simply limiting the number of hours in the office. A mix of shorter hours and a flexible timetable would help win over the new generation of workers.
With the skills shortage worsening, it will be interesting to see if more UK companies consider the option of a shorter week day to increase its productivity levels and staff retention. No doubt a close eye will be kept on the Swedish implementation to see if it proves to be a successful model.
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