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The idea of spending less time at work to be more productive does on the face of it seemed counterintuitive, but a company in New Zealand tried a month long trial whereby its employees worked for eight hour days and were paid for five. The increase in productivity has been so great that it is now implemented it as a full time policy.

Many companies work a shorter day on a Friday, with the thinking being that people become more focused in the four other days of the week, for the same reason when workers transfer to part-time from full-time they invariably get the same amount of work done in less days.

The idea of flexible working has been around for a long time and in a recent report by HSBC 89% of employees at major UK businesses agreed that flexible working was more likely to increase productivity than financial incentives. The report highlighted that people felt that work life balance whereby they could manage their work and non-work roles to their own requirements was more motivating and satisfying.

The finance and business consultancy PWC have now allowed more than 2000 staff in Britain to choose their own working hours. The so-called “flexible talent” initiative will allow people to state their skills and availability when applying for jobs. It will then match the recruits to relevant projects on which they can work with shorter weeks or work for only a few months a year.

PWC said it wanted to hire people who offer diverse talents and said that the flexible scheme will appeal to those who care to children or elderly parents, entrepreneurs who wanted to supplement their income, people who wanted to travel or people who just did not want to work all of the year. Laura Hinton, chief people officer at PWC said, “In order to recruit the best people, we recognise that we need to offer greater flexibility, different working options and a route back in for those looking to restart their careers. We want to create a network of continual returners”

Miss Hinton added, “We’re likely to see arising people transitioning in and out of work throughout their careers and those organisations who responsibly support their people to do this will ultimately gain a competitive advantage.” Members of the network will receive equivalent pay and the same benefits as full-time employees, including bonuses, sick pay, pensions, holidays and private healthcare.

A survey of more than 4000 people by YouGov and the McDonald’s fast food chain said that half of British adults would swap longer hours each day for a shorter working week and more than a third wanted to start at 8 am and go home early, with just over a fifth wanting to start work at 7 am and leave at 3 pm.

Many would say that in the customer focused businesses a shorter working week would not work, as they need to be there when the customer requires their attention, but a PR company based in Gloucestershire is trialling the four-day week option and founder and director Rich Leigh said, “At first clients were a bit uncertain as many companies do not work like this. But my mantra has always been a happy team makes happy clients and ultimately you get better results with a good work-life balance.”

Britain’s work on average 37 hours a week, according to the Office for National Statistics, this compares with an average of 38.4 hours a week worked 20 years ago. Much has changed within our society in those 20 years, but the fundamental work ethic is still very much the same even though the structure of the family unit and the demands on it are radically different. One of the big issues at the moment is mental health and it is known that stress, brought on by extreme pressure at work, is a contributive cause towards early mental health issues, therefore more enlightened approach to working hours could bring more time to relax, more time for families and more time to contribute towards our communities.


Mike Astrop, Leadership Expert and ITS Group Business Skills trainer.


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