Cutting down on working hours could increase UK productivity

Research has found that a focus on shorter working hours and an increase of sleep could help the the UK improve its lack of productivity.

Britain’s “long-hour working culture” can be traced back to 1995 when British novelist Jojo Moyes suggested that productivity was falling as a result of longer working hours. Citing from “The Family Friendly Workplace” report, she indicated that long hours had started to become the norm due to job insecurity and pressure from bosses wanting to grow their businesses. 

Instead of resulting in better productivity, the “epidemic” was costing British industry millions as employees were physically affected and took sick leave, she said. Moyes added that 90 per cent of employees in the “Family Friendly” report had described the “long-hours culture” as a problem, because of reduced performance and lowered morale.

In April 2015, research unveiled by the Office for National Statistics claimed that the absence of productivity growth in the UK since 2007 is “unprecedented in the postwar period”. It was also suggested the UK now had the second worst productivity record of the G7 nations. 

Backing up Moyes’s claim, Sealy UK recently explained that longer working hours, and the resulting lack of sleep, could be one of the biggest culprits when it came to Britain’s lack of productivity. The report, which questioned 1,000 of the nation’s workers, found 21 per cent of employees had called in sick or arrived late because of lack of sleep.

Based on this statistic, the researchers calculated that if those employees missed work one day a year, it would mean costing UK businesses £453m in productivity – and a loss of 47,250,000 hours of work.

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Some ten per cent admitted to regularly falling asleep in a meeting or at their desk “by accident”, while 32 per cent explained they felt tired every morning, and tended to take naps at work “most days”.

This isn’t the first study to link to sleep deprivation to a lack of productivity. On average, individuals should get 7.5 hours of sleep per night, but workers at all levels often don’t make it to the 6.5 mark. This figure was unveiled by Ashridge Business School, which found that bigger businesses often had a “macho culture” that made it acceptable for leaders to report a lack of sleep, but not to admit it has a negative effect on them.

Scientists from The University of Cambridge and Rand Europe also found that those who slept for six hours or less per night were notably less productive than those who got seven or eight hours of sleep per night

Furthermore, a 2012 study on biological sleep clocks by Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that the longer someone was awake while being sleep deprived, the slower their work production became.

Commenting at the time, the author on the study, Jeanne Duffy, said: “Recognising the important role that sufficient sleep quality and quantity play in health, safety, and performance could not only improve worker production, but also worker health and safety.”

Image: Shutterstock

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Shané Schutte

Shané Schutte is a senior reporter at Real Business, with a particular specialism in employment and business law, human resources, information technology and sales/marketing.

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