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How Long Is A Working Day?

Traditionally, the standard business day in the UK is 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday to Friday, but in recent times it has begun to change. It’s common for businesses today to offer flexible schedules and condensed work weeks, along with hybrid working. 

There is also talk of reduced hours in some companies and even a 4 day week, but this is not a reality at the moment. However, businesses are offering employees more flexible arrangements to coordinate and organise their personal lives around work. 

The future of a typical business day in the UK is set to change in various ways, but as yet there is no definitive answer to what it might look like in the future. Will there be fewer working hours and days, more remote and hybrid roles, or no changes at all? 

In this article we explore these questions and envision the future of a business day. 

The Standard British Working Day

The standard working day in the UK has always been 9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday, and there are reasons for that. Find out why most businesses stick to this schedule right here:

  • Humans enjoy the sunlight and working between 9am and 5pm maximises the amount of daylight we receive improving morale and productivity; even during the winter months.
  • These standard hours also provide plenty of opportunities for workers to enjoy their lives outside of work, they have time to enjoy a hobby, spend time with family, or simply relax.
  • These standard hours are also the most commonly practised in the UK so employers and employees are on the same page when it comes to hours worked and general productivity.

Which Laws Govern UK Working Hours?

The UK Government sets the standards for working time and do so with the aim of protecting workers from being overworked. Part of this is to outline how many hours someone can work and how many breaks are required during the working day.

These laws were introduced in 1998 and have gone through subsequent amendments over the years. In 2016, following Britain’s vote to leave the EU, working hours were once again amended to reflect the requirements of modern industries.

Although the UK is no longer part of the EU it still follows the EU Working Time Directive, which outlines the minimum standards for working hours, rest periods, and paid leave. The directive also outlines conditions for night work, as well as provisions for health surveillance.

Following the UK’s exit from the EU, Britain’s business secretary Jacob Rees Mogg expressed his opposition to the restrictions of working hours for employees, as well as UK worker’s rights to minimum annual leave. Britain is now free to change employment law.

There are differences between UK and EU directives, and in some cases the UK has more generous allowances. For instance, in the UK workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid annual leave, but in the EU they are only entitled to 4 weeks. This standard could change.

Due to Britain’s EU exit many of the protections that have been in place might be dismantled in the coming years as the UK government starts to remove the gold-plated EU regulations and replace them with standards that will suit the British economy in the short and long term.

While it might seem like a disadvantage to remove EU worker’s rights and protections that have been in place for some time, there’s a strong possibility the UK could benefit from changing these restrictions–such as the 48-hour week limit–and give workers more choice.

Alternative UK Working Hours

Although a 9-5 work day is standard for most businesses in the UK, alternative hours are also common, especially in the retail sector where employees tend to work evenings and weekends when the shops are open and most people have time to spend their earnings.

In the hospitality industry, employees must work unsociable hours to manage late arrival and prepare the establishment for the morning rush, and in the healthcare industry, staff must work through the night to meet the needs of patients and support the emergency services.

Below you can find some of the common reasons alternative hours exist:

  • Alternative hours allow businesses to remain open and meet customer requirements. 
  • Some industries can’t operate on a typical 9-5 schedule, such as hospitals and hotels.
  • Alternative hours offer more flexibility for workers who prefer a more creative schedule. 

That said, alternative working hours don’t suit everyone, and some employees might prefer to have a more standard schedule. Alternative hours can be unsociable and isolating, especially shift work, which can disrupt the personal lives and mental health of employees.

Alternative hours aren’t always predictable either, in some businesses the alternative hours change from week to week so that employees can’t make future plans easily. In summary, alternative hours have pro and cons and their suitability might come down to a personality.

The Rise of Remote and Hybrid Working in the UK

In recent times there have been alternative working models and industries emerging due to several factors. The arrival of the gig economy, technological advances, and changes in the culture have all contributed to alternative hours and new ways of working hybrid situations.

Although these changes were on the cards, there’s no doubt the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated them and changed our expectations for our working lives. Even companies that did not offer remote working had to adapt at short notice to ensure they kept operating.

As ever, there are pros and cons to hybrid and remote working conditions–these apply to both employers and employees. On the employee side there is greater flexibility and time saving which can improve life quality, the downside is the costs of maintaining a home office.

On the employer side, they save on office costs improving the bottom line, but there are some concerns from management that remote workers are less productive when they’re not in the office. There can also be issues tracking the work and progress of remote workers.

Although there is an upside and a downside to alternative hours and remote conditions, it’s clear they are here to stay in the UK. While the pandemic changed the way we work overnight, technological advances and cultural changes were around the corner, and for the most part, employees and companies are satisfied with a wider range of options for working.

Overtime in the UK

Employees who are required by their companies to work overtime are protected by specific laws and regulations in the UK. The laws and regulations are there to prevent employers from overworking their employees and to make sure that workers receive adequate wages.

Overtime is any work which is carried out over and above the work completed during the standard hours. Although it is not the case in every business, overtime is normally paid at one and half times more than regular wages, but it depends on the company and hours.

The most common overtime allowance doesn’t apply to every business or industry. For instance, some employees receive a salary instead of an hourly wage, while others receive benefits from the company rather than money for their overtime, and others receive time off.

Overtime might seem like an excellent option for employers and employees, but there are some downsides to think about. Overtime can lead to additional productivity for the business, but only when employees are fit to work. Long hours can lead to stress and suboptimal well-being. In some cases, businesses might have to invest in further training for their workers to be capable to meeting the additional workloads required.

The Four Day Work Week

Most people are familiar with the five day work week, due to some of the criteria listed above, but the idea of a four day work week has been around for some time. In the early 20th century in the United States, workers began to push for a four day working week, and several companies responded: the most notable experimental company was Henry Ford.

Henry Ford Motors had huge production line companies at that time in the United States and he decided to reduce the working week to four days, the experiment proved successful, and

Nowadays, the four day working week is being proposed not from an industry, but from a think tank; it’s called New Economics Foundation. This organisation points to the benefits of the four day work week such as well-being improvements for employees and company productivity. Employees can use the extra time for hobbies or family boosting their morale.

4 Day Week Considerations

In theory, and in practice, employees who are less stressed and more comfortable tend to perform better in tasks and improve core productivity–this stands in comparison to workers who are overstressed and time pressured. Shorter weeks also benefit people with children who struggle to balance their work with childcare responsibilities and time management.

Although it sounds progressive, there are a few downsides of shorter work weeks. For one thing, companies might use the shorter week to pay employees less or reduce their benefits leading to financial stress and lower productivity for the employer.

Additionally, employers might increase the number of hours during the working days to compensate for the extra day. In essence, this is not a short week and could increase stress levels and create time management issues on work days; and it could lead to downturns.

While some companies are experimenting with a four day week, or a shorter week, such as Google, Microsoft, and Deloitte, there are no concrete plans to reduce the working week in the UK. For now, the four day working week remains in an experimental stage as well as a slightly unrealistic fringe idea in some places; though perhaps some companies will adopt it.

How Employers can Choose the Best Working Hours

Employers must make important decisions when it comes to hiring staff of the business–how many hours will the employees work? In making this decision the employers must consider several factors including employee requirements, company partners and customers, as well as the aims of the business. They have to decide how much flexibility and benefits to award.

One option for employers is to offer a flexible schedule to employees to improve morale whilst meeting the needs of the company. Nowadays, employees have a wide variety of lifestyles, responsibilities, and schedules, and choosing personal working hours from a range of options is desirable–as long as it meets the needs of the business and is productive.

Since modern businesses operate remotely in many cases, there is also a time zone to consider for their employees, international partners, and international customers. It’s important for employers to factor these requirements to the working schedule and ensure they have enough staff in place to maintain business productivity during quieter hours.

In the end there is no pre-fabricated out-the-box solution to selecting working hours for a business, they must be in line with the aims of the business and the employee standards.

Options for British Workers who are Dissatisfied with their Working Conditions

In the UK there are several ways employees can respond to unsatisfactory working conditions. If they desire changes to their pay, hours, or conditions. They can speak to their employers or if that route doesn’t work, they can file a complaint with an employment tribunal or join a union.

Trade unions play an important role in Britain. Over the past 150 years, trade unions have revolutionised that employment landscape and held exploitative companies to account. Traditionally viewed as militant and disruptive, trade unions have evolved into a British institution that works in the service of employees to ensure their rights and conditions are met.

Political Differences

In the UK there is a traditional divide between Labour and Conservative, with Labour valuing the rights of workers and Conservatives valuing the capitalist principles. Under Conservative Prime Minister Liz Truss the trade unions were attacked in 2018 with new laws that made it more challenging for tem to call strikes. They also proposed changes to restrict trade unions.

Despite the changes implemented under a Conservative government, trade unions have not disappeared or gone. Quite the opposite – as of 2022, the UK is experiencing substantial inflation and a spiralling cost of living crisis which has brought many workers to the streets.

From railway workers, to teachers, to healthcare workers, the trade unions have never been more active despite government interventions, and the general public are sympathetic to their cause. As the economy continues to tumble, more industries can be expected to strike.

Final Thoughts

It’s clear that the traditional business day of 9am-5pm Monday to Friday is still in place in many sectors, but it’s also clear that this model is subject to change. In some cases, the business day has completely opened up, it’s 24/7, while in others it’s down to 4 days a week.

The future of the working day in the UK remains an open question, but with the UK economy and the global economy in a precarious place, reducing working hours appears unlikely in most industries. Businesses will need to find their own optimal working days in line with business needs, employment law and employee wellbeing.


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