Brits work some of the longest work weeks in Europe and UK firms are beginning to buck that trend by offering their staff 4 day working weeks.
By reducing lunch hours and annual leave to 45 mins and by 20% respectively Gloucester based outfit Radioactive PR have been able to adopt a 4 day working week and MD Rich Leigh says of his newly reinvigorated staff base “There are two ways to make money in my line of work,” he says, “retain clients and get new ones. Miserable, tired staff can’t do either.”
Last year, more than half a million UK workers were signed off with work related stress or anxiety. Nick White, MD of Iwantastandingdesk.com said “encouraging good mental health in the workplace is absolutely imperative. Britain are notoriously behind trend internationally when it comes to integrating good work/life balance and positive healthy culture into their workplaces.”
“We work with a large number of companies who are invested in their employee’s well-being and frequently report to us that integrating standing desks, reduced work hours and other healthy work space initiatives result in their teams outputting higher quality work and demonstrating incredible loyalty. Not to mention all these measures increase recruitment quality as companies are striving more and more to improve their in-house offering to attract the best talent.”
France recently made it illegal for companies to expect their workers to answer emails out of hours but Britain just hasn’t kept up with our European neighbours and often work long hours often unpaid averaging 10 hours overtime a week and only 34 minute lunch hours.
The EU working time directive sets a limit of 48 working hours a week. Britain is the only EU member that allows workers to opt out of this and work longer hours. Trade unions however believe this is subject to “widespread abuse.”
Videogame companies are one of the worst culprits for insisting on crunch development cycles where staff often report on spending weeks to months not seeing their family’s due to the incredible pressure to meet deadlines. This is frequently regarded as “normal part of the job” but is affecting 76% of the industry despite being clearly unsustainable and damaging to long term productivity. According to research some workers report bouts of depression and low morale following the tech industries notorious crunch periods.
Standing meetings are often shorter, allowing firms to reduce wasted workplace time which research has shown is as damaging to productivity as cannabis smoking.
The Green party and Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress have both campaigned for the implementation of a 4 day working week citing increased automation as an opportunity for companies to spread the benefits of increased profits to its staff base. Should this begin to occur critics might argue that 4 day work weeks as a result of automation might inflate into the development of worklessness as companies begin to realise they need their staff base less and less.
Mark Price former MD of Waitrose believes the increase of the 4 day working week sends the wrong message and suggests that “work is bad and should be done less” he also believes that the public sector can ill afford to reduce working weeks in line with the private sector without increasing taxes to cover this. “I can’t imagine there is much of an appetite for that.”
Should 4 day work weeks be adopted in private sector could that make working for vital public services less appealing and have a negative impact to recruitment in services such as councils and NHS?
Wherever you land on the subject, there appears to be a need to improve our approach to work place health.
Crunch is bad for mental health but can we be more productive by working less? Latest research from Perpetual Guardian, a wealth management firm seems to suggest so as they report an increase in productivity by 24% in firms that take up the 4 days weeks. Following in his firm’s footsteps, Gloucester Managing Director Leigh asks the question “why not give it a try?”.