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Employees want you to adopt a shorter work week

Research has found that 31 per cent of employees believe themselves to be unproductive for two hours every day. This, they said, would be remedied by a shorter work week.
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Economist John Maynard Keynes suggested in 1930 that we would drastically cut the working week down to a mere 15 hours by 2030. While there’s still a while to go before we find out if his prediction is true, staff seem keen to incite a shorter work week rebellion.

“For many ages to come the old Adam will be so strong in us that everybody will need to do some work if he is to be contented,” Keynes claimed in an essay. “We shall do more things for ourselves than is usual with the rich to-day, only too glad to have small duties and tasks and routines.

“But beyond this, we shall endeavour to spread the bread thin on the butter – to make what work there is still to be done to be as widely shared as possible. Three-hour shifts or a fifteen-hour week may put off the problem for a great while.”

This concept has garnered mixed reactions. Many believe a shorter work week could harm businesses and employees alike – attaching more hours to fewer days could exacerbate stress and health concerns.

According to Allard Dembe, professor of public health at Ohio State University, in The Conversation, the primary problem with the idea “is that whatever work needs to be done, needs to get done in the same amount of total time. Despite wishes to the contrary, there are still only 24 hours in a day.

“The danger is in disregarding the health effects that can occur as a result of fatigue and stress that accumulate over a longer-than-normal working day. For workers who are already prone to overwork, the additional burden of compressing five days into four could literally break the camel’s – or worker’s – back.”

Others claim it will boost work-life balance, not to mention cut overhead costs – being able to turn off office lights for longer. There are further social and environmental benefits, Anna Coote, head of the New Economics Foundation, explained in a 2012 TEDx talk.

She advocates a 21-hour work week. Here’s what she had to say:

Whatever your thoughts on the matter, staff are hoping you’ll embrace a shorter work week.

Fellowes recently commissioned a report, finding 61 per cent of employees wanted a shorter work week. “Despite being the fifth largest economy in the world, the UK sits 15th in the productivity table, lagging behind the likes of Sweden (31 hours p/w), Denmark (27.2 hours p/w) and Norway (27.3 p/w) – who all work, on average, less hours per week than Brits (32 hours p/w),” it said.

“As a third of workers are essentially working a six-hour day, many believe it’s time to look towards Scandinavian countries for inspiration.”

One of the biggest advocates of the shorter work week is Grace Marshall, author of How to be Really Productive and productivity expert at Think Productive. She explained that it increased motivation and gave people more time to just generally live their lives.

“It is our ability to think well that increases the quality and value of our work, not how many hours we show up at the office,” she said. “In fact, working longer hours can diminish our productivity as well as our wellbeing.”

Flexibility and time to rest both body and mind seem to be at the fore of employees’ minds, and offering them just that – not necessarily in the form of a four day work week – will go a long way in helping you defeat competitors for top talent and keep those eying a hasty exit.

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About Author

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.

Real Business