For decades, says Susanna Quirke, the 9-5 has been a stalwart of Western work rhythms. But it’s 2017 and times are a-changing. According to futurologists, it won’t be long until the eight-hour workday is long forgotten.
So what are the alternatives, and what should forward-facing businesses be thinking about over the next few years?
What’s wrong with the way things are?
Our current format of sitting employees at desks every morning and demanding they work eight hours is fundamentally flawed – and not just from the worker’s perspective. According to reports from Brightside, we only do productive work for four or five hours a day, so paying for more time is literally wasting company money.
Not only that, but it’s costing employers in terms of worker health. Recent research indicates that the 9-5 clashes with our natural circadian rhythms, interfering with brain function and memory. In other words, forcing employees to rock up at 9 AM every morning is literally making them more stupid. Plus, longer working hours are associated with depression and stroke.
Finally, employers need to wake up and recognise what their workforce wants. Flexible hours are one of the top worker requests worldwide. They’re a quick, easy way to attract the best applicants to any role – or would be, if more than 6% of job adverts offered them.
Want to preserve a healthier workforce, reduce absenteeism and stand out on the job boards? Don’t say we didn’t tell you how.
A 35-hour week?
When France instituted its 35-hour week back in 2000, there were plenty of jokes about the ‘lazy French’. The recent landmark ‘right to disconnect’ law – giving all French workers the right to ignore work emails sent out of office hours – has drawn similar derision.
But France may not have the wrong idea. In fact, other countries are considering following in the European powerhouse’s footsteps. And, with the 30-hour-week experiments at Amazon last year, it’s safe to say that France’s innovative approach to working hours is finally catching on – even if France itself is now backpedalling.
Research consistently suggests that a shorter working week – reduced as far as 21 hours – would see improvements to our economy, environment and rates of unemployment. It’s not going to happen quickly. However, as the years go by, we can expect to see governments worldwide taking more notice of the facts.
A three- or four-day week?
As well as the reduced hour week, there is another new concept floating around: the reduced day week. According to the Society For Human Resource Management, many companies (43%) now offer four-day weeks to some employees. The results, according to tax services firm Ryan, are reduced employee turnover, better productivity, improved client satisfaction and increased profit.
Reduced day schemes seem to be beneficial for older workers. Research from the Melbourne Institute indicates that, while working up to thirty hours is beneficial for the brains of over-40s, more than that will harm the individual’s cognitive abilities. Working four days a week at 7.5 hours a day is the perfect solution.
Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of ‘Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less’, writes: “In the last couple decades, discoveries in sleep research, psychology, neuroscience, organizational behavior, sports medicine, sociology and other fields have given us a wealth of insight into the unsung but critical role that rest plays in strengthening the brain, enhancing learning, enabling inspiration, and making innovation sustainable.”
Pang’s point – that rest days are beneficial for our career in the long term– supports the theories of innovators the world over. Giving your employees time to themselves will ensure they bring their game face on the days they do work.
Just plain flexible?
Do the above ideas frighten you? Good news: you don’t have to implement a three-day week to get in on the flexible working trend.
Telecommuting is on the rise. IBM, Accenture, Samsung and Nokia all encourage their workforce to work from home. The success of Flexjobs, a job site specialising in location-independent roles, has made hiring remote workers the norm.
Unfortunately, problems remain. While more than two-thirds of managers (67%) offer flexibility to all or most of their employees, 44% of organizations do not feature or market flexibility on job adverts. So, while companies are willing to grant flexibility options if pushed, they’re not encouraging workers to take advantage of that fact. This means both that employees are forced ask for any changes directly, and that job adverts from the company don’t gain better applicants.
So if you’re an employer looking to attract superior talent, consider revising your working hour policy – and letting people know about it. It just might be what puts you ahead of the competition.
Susanna writes for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and giving out graduate careers advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs, visit their website.