Should we work less hours?

Do you regularly work more than 40-hours a week? If your answer is yes, you might want to consider a change. An increasing number of studies suggest that less really is more.

A 40-hour working week has been more or less the norm throughout the Western world for the past couple of decades, but a number of recent studies show that working fewer hours can actually lead to increased productivity, not to mention much happier workers.

Productivity: less is more?

A study carried out in the UK revealed that out of the normal 8-hour working day, employees are only actually productive for 3 hours. The remaining 5 hours are wasted on chatting to colleagues, browsing social media, and catching up on the news, suggesting that if people work fewer hours, they will actually spend more time working and less time on other non-work related activities.

In a 6-hour working day trial carried out in Sweden, employees’ productivity went up by nearly 70%. Similarly, a 4-day working week trial carried out by a company in New Zealand – Perpetual Guardian – saw that, even when they lost a whole day of work, their employees’ productivity remained the same. With fewer hours in the working week, they had to streamline their workflow to be more efficient: workers concentrated more on work and long meetings were shortened by up to 30 minutes. Staff were also much more motivated to arrive on time and didn’t take unnecessarily long breaks.

Hours go down: happiness and well-being go up

Shorter working hours are also linked to employee happiness. During the Swedish 6-hour working day trial, employee happiness increased by 20%. Likewise, in Perpetual Guardian’s 4-day working week trial, the overall happiness of employees went up. Employees also reported that they had more energy and were generally more motivated to work following their long weekends.

Both trials also saw a decrease in the number of employee sick days, suggesting shorter working hours are connected to employee well-being. Working long hours are known to contribute to a lower quality of life and health problems, including heavy drinking, diabetes and heart and cognitive problems.

The downside to fewer hours

While there seem to be lots of positives to working shorter hours, there are a few downsides for companies. One of the possible downsides is cost. When people work fewer hours, even if they are individually more productive than before, companies may need to hire more employees to cover the workload. This is particularly a problem for businesses offering set-hour or 24/7 services, like shops, restaurants and customer services. If their current employees are working fewer hours for the same wages, companies cannot always afford to employ more workers meaning, for some companies and industries, working fewer hours is not always practical.

Fancy working fewer hours?

So it seems that in most cases, we should be working less hours! After all, it produces better and happier workers.

Unfortunately, working less than 40 hours per week isn’t a norm in a lot of countries. If you fancy giving a shorter working day/week a go, your best bet is to head to a Nordic country (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), the Netherlands or Germany, where the average working hours range from 27 to just over 31 per week.

Check out the OECD’s website for an overview of the average annual working hours in countries across the world.

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