With the nights drawing in and our thoughts turning to the festive season, spending all our daylight hours at work can be a strain. The clocks have only just gone back but that earlier start is already swallowed up by the commute, early-morning admin and planning for the day ahead. But is working the (by no means average) nine to five still the most efficient way to run a business?
The UK is often perceived to be a champion of long working hours, short holidays and relentless overtime, not eased by sharing the commute with thousands of others making the same dash to and from the office. In fact, our working habits only tend to rank favourably against the staunch schedules of the US, with its early starts and short holidays, and Japan’s always-on attitude.
So it’s no surprise that weary workforces are looking to their peers in the global work pool and the much coveted benefits of a ‘work-life balance’. Sweden, for example, is blazing the way for a six-hour workday, with several companies trialling – and reaping the benefits of – this concentrated work schedule. Only around one percent of employees work more than 50 hours a week (the average worldwide is closer to 13%), they generally get 25 days holiday and most employees clock off before 5pm.
With a six-hour workday, Swedish employees are able to structure their working life around family or logistical commitments, take a full hour’s lunch and still catch the shops, family gatherings or the gym after they’ve clocked off. In return they commit to a full, focused six hours’ service – no social networking, no personal calls or emails until the end of the day. Of course, the benefits of this approach are easily listed; the chance to enjoy the outdoors in daylight, making appointments in the week, fitting full-time hours around a young family, taking advantage of daytime dining and entertainment deals, enjoying a spot of gardening mid-week etc. Early findings of this approach have seen companies enjoying the same levels of productivity without having to adjust salaries to factor in the reduced working hours.
This is by no means a new concept, but 2015 has seen somewhat of a revival of an idea which has had to defend itself against political criticism, lack of evidence and a shifting economic climate to build credibility. But although the six-hour day is finding pockets of success in Sweden, that nation’s workforce in general still pursues the standard nine to five. It will be a laborious job trying to change work habits, but Sweden’s commitment to improving work-life balance is increasingly holding the attention of the world. One of the main factors is health – spending some daylight hours away from the workplace, being given time to pursue fitness or calm along with gym passes and health benefits is a huge factor that could attract, retain and keep a workforce committed.
But is working the “Swedish Way” even viable in the UK? And what might be the motivation for pursuing this new work pattern at home? The concentrated workday in principle should provide a more focused effort, a better quality of work while employees wanting to safeguard their salaries fit the same level of productivity into a shorter workday.
Despite the inevitable logistics and shift in mind-set that would be critical to moving to a more Swedish approach. Businesses could incorporate at least some of the elements of this approach even if they’re not ready to fully embrace the six-hour workday right now.
“Employee attraction and retention can be a costly business and you have to be prepared to offer a well-considered benefits package to stand out in the global job pool,” says Rob Dolbear, managing director of HCR.
“Flexible working hours, family-minded management, health-promoting benefits and leisure incentives can make your operation much more attractive to a workforce which is quick to look beyond the terms of employment and salary when deliberating an appointment.
“Businesses who are flexible around employees’ lifestyles – acknowledging their external pressures, commitments and priorities – are much more likely to attract and retain their best workers. That means a more content and committed workforce regardless of the length of the working day.
“Make sure your business works for your people and they will make it work for you.”