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Work less, achieve more?

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I don’t think that many people remember a 6- or 7-day working week. We take for granted that we normally work 5 days, even though we live in a 24/7 economy (which means it’s not normal practice for everyone). However, I appreciate that COVID-19 has significantly impacted on a lot of people’s work practices and patterns.

Historically, it was the trade unions that pressed for a shorter working week, so weekends became a time for leisure, and currently they are starting to push towards a 4-day working week. In some areas of manufacturing in the late 19th century, it was not uncommon to work 100 hours per week, but by the mid-20th century, comparable employees worked an average of 40 hours per week. So, a further drop to 30 hours seems manageable. The aim is not to create a compressed week but a genuine reduction in hours worked, but with no reduction in salary.

How can that be achieved with employers remaining profitable and competitive? I recently read about a local Suffolk company that’s campaigning for a 4-day week, after its profits soared since introducing the change. Staff sickness reduced and retention increased. Its turnover increased by 25% and profits doubled. They recognise that this was not the sole reason, but it was a major factor.

Whilst the 4-day week is a relatively new concept, probably enabled by the advancement in technology, companies that are trialling it have found positive results for employers and employees.

Research has found that overworked employees are actually less productive than those working a normal week. I’ve recently started working just three days a week and I’m finding my productivity is much better on those days than when working a full week. Unfortunately, reducing my hours, reduced my pay, but it‘s still a good deal for me and my employer. Not surprisingly, employees also show improvements in job satisfaction, a better work/life balance and loyalty.

Interestingly, some of the world’s most productive countries, such as Norway, Denmark and Germany, work on average 28 hours per week. On the other hand, Mexico, which has the most overworked employees, is also the least productive, ranking 42nd out of 42 for productivity.

There are many examples of how all parties benefit from a reduction in hours, but additionally, it’s been found that countries working shorter weeks tend to have smaller carbon footprints.  

Inevitably, there will be some disadvantages, e.g. potential customer dissatisfaction due to reduced availability, and confusion about compressed hours rather than reduced hours.

Can this work for the self-employed? Yes, definitely, they can find ways to reduce their hours and because they are their own boss, they can be more flexible. Self-employment doesn’t mean you have to work 100 hours a week!  

If you have any questions about this subject, please get in touch with your usual contact. You can find contact details on the Our People section of the website. Alternatively, call 0330 024 0888 or email


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Larking Gowen


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