Working Hours: Is this the end of the 8 hour working day as we know it?

As employers compete in difficult times, employees are still working long hours; and those who work more than 55 hours per week could be putting their health at risk, according to the CIPD. Recently, the working week has come into greater focus as Sweden moves towards a standard 6 hour day, with Swedish employers already starting to implement these changes.

There’s always an opportunity cost between the length of a working day and the level of maintained, effective productivity. Once that balance is tipped, tiredness and mental strain kick in, which can lead to stress, strokes and other health conditions. Sweden’s thinking is simple. Fewer hours and employees will be more motivated and energised to complete their work quicker, to allow more time for life outside of work. Employees will be happier and better-rested. (Source: www.sciencealert.com).

However, the work ethos of these early-adopters of short working day is clear to all employees taking part:

  • Work means purely that; no social media, private calls or private business, except for emergencies;
  • Meetings are reduced in length, or are condensed accordingly.

The reduction in distractions is to help concentration and to help achieve the level of productivity usually achieved in an eight hour working day. Employees can then look forward to the extra time which helps to balance work and life.

The other side of the coin is the work ethic espoused by South African-born Elon Musk, the renowned entrepreneur and innovator behind PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity. His notion of longer working hours – 80+ per week, is driven by his insatiable drive and energy. Those who want to work with him need to share the same philosophy: “If you work 80hrs and your competitor works 40, you’ll be successful twice as quick.” Interesting as a belief, but is that reality?

However, that doesn’t work for the average employee, with different motivational “facets”, which encompass expectations, needs, and energy levels. That is why engagement is so important from an individualistic viewpoint.  When an employee can connect through “heart and mind” with what the organisation really is, that employee can and will be engaged and productive. Working hours is just one of those motivational facets. Those companies which can revise their practices easily may adopt this; also those who are technologically-driven, with virtual workers and 24/7 access to systems, may find workers will still “logon” when there are issues and discussions, but that can be monitored.

As for the Swedish experience, we’ve notated our calendar to review the feedback and lessons learned in twelve months from now. Will the shorter working day work, or not? How will those results be measured? An engagement survey would sit nicely as part of this review process, alongside KPIs, business results, turnover and absence statistics, as a starter, and we’ll leave you with that thought.