Megaphone

Are shorter working hours the key to increased productivity and employee wellbeing?

Are shorter working hours the key to increased productivity and employee wellbeing?

Despite dramatic changes in technology and the Information Revolution, standard employment is still on 9–5, Monday to Friday contracts.

We have seen some flexibility in terms of compressed hours, home and remote working, but the majority of employees still dance to Dolly Parton’s tune, Working 9 til 5, what a way to make a livin’!

However, a new report for ‘Yell’ by James Wallman, acclaimed futurist, points to significant changes in the next 30 years as the impact of robotics, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things takes effect. Wallman suggests that by 2050 the working day will only be four hours long.

The current work pattern still owes a lot to post-Industrial Revolution times with workers expected to perform mainly routine tasks in factories and offices.

Emerging research suggests that eight-hour days are a suboptimal way to work – the optimum is far closer to four hours per day. New technologies will remove routine tasks from our working lives allowing humans to become more creative and maximise this creativity by working four hours per day.

This dramatic change will have huge benefits on employee health and wellbeing, as well as a significant impact on work/life balance.

Of course, the key issue for business is the impact that shorter hours have on productivity. There has already been significant research and experimentation taking place in this field with businesses in New York, London, Edinburgh and Sweden reducing the working day to five hours and/or the week to four days, while maintaining current wage levels and benefits.

In most cases, the effect is somewhat counterintuitive – with productivity increasing as workers fit more actual work activity into the reduced time at their workstation.

Potentially the reduction in working hours could be a win-win situation; employees maintaining income levels, benefiting from improvements in work/life balance, health and wellbeing, while employers benefit from increased productivity.

This is all great in theory but reality is likely to be somewhat different – and if a week is a long time in politics, 30 years is a very long time in business and economics!