According to a report in the New York Times, many employees, particularly those in service industries, are finding that new technology and software is changing their jobs. Businesses are able to reduce the number of employees they need to deliver their service, and those that remain are finding that they need to work outside of the traditional 9-5 or make themselves available, “on-call”, at differing times.

Sir Richard Branson’s announcement of his ‘non-policy’ on holiday has certainly started a discussion about what it means to get the job done. And according to experts, working a shorter week would likely make most people feel happier and even more productive.

Are we working for the sake of working?

Is there a danger that by continuing to work a traditional 9-5, Monday to Friday, with a two day weekend that we are working for the sake of working? Working longer hours doesn’t mean that we are actually achieving more.

Longer working weeks are more likely to result in employee burnout, which impacts negatively on employee productivity. Longer working weeks can also lead to an increase in stress-related illnesses, and result in increased staff turnover. Whilst with a shorter working week, employers are seeing improvements in employees’ quality of life, stress levels and engagement with the organisation, which are resulting in improved productivity and morale.

Quentin Fottrell, in MarketWatch, calculated that whilst Germany works nearly 45% fewer annual hours than Greece, it is 70% more productive, and annual German salaries are higher too. Fottrell also found that;

“countries with the largest reduction in work hours had the largest increase in employment rates since the Great Recession”.

The challenge of shorter working week

A shorter working week can reduce unemployment, but in some industries it can also mean reduced salaries for employees, and with cost of living rises it remains to be seen how businesses can overcome this hurdle.

ion would be to work longer hours during the days you are working, for example three 12 hour days. With the remaining four days employees would have plenty of time to relax and indulge in leisure activities, without taking a hit on their monthly salary.

Another solution would be to make up some of the shortfall caused by reduced hours with employee benefits, that put money back in employees’ pockets. Benefits, such ascashback cardsdiscount vouchers and employee purchase schemes, can all reduce the impact every day costs have on an employee’s salary.

Is shorter working week really the solution?

Yes, many employees are exhausted on Monday mornings, and they may drift through Fridays at work, but is that a symptom of a longer than necessary working week or a symptom of low employee morale and engagement within the organisation? If we love our jobs, and believe in the organisation that we’re working for, then usually we’re happy to work the hours needed to get the job done. If we don’t, then we’re unmotivated and unproductive.

So perhaps before we all start to think about working a shorter week, we need to take a step back and look at the internal culture of our business. Are we working for the sake of working, or are we working because we’re engaged in the job and with the company? Only then can we decide whether a shorter working week would work for our business.