Ways of working

Productivity per hour: should we shorten the working day?

Business has changed drastically over the last few decades, whether through the rise of new technologies and flexible working, or via the importance of intangibles and the growth of new markets. But that’s not all; recent trends suggest that the next part of office life to get a makeover might be the workday itself. Sweden is coming close to the end of a year-long experiment with a six-hour workday, which supporters say increases productivity and efficiency.

For fast-growing companies competing in a volatile market with a small headcount, every employee needs to be as productive as possible – so could we all benefit from a shorter work day?

Shorter hours and greater productivity

In 2015, the five most productive countries (by hours worked) were Luxembourg, Norway, the Netherlands, France and Germany, according to OECD statistics. Almost all of these countries have one noticeable thing in common as well as their productivity: their workdays are shorter than the OECD average. The exception is Luxembourg, whose workday is more or less equal in length to the average. Dutch employees only work around 28.9 hours a week – the lowest in the world. The two least productive countries, Mexico and South Africa, work almost 15 hours more, at an average of 44.7 and 43.3 hours, respectively.

Prioritizing employee happiness

So could there be something in the shorter-hours model? Research suggests there might be – and Regus studies also show that happier employees are on average more productive than their unhappy colleagues.

This could mean that abandoning the traditional nine-to-five in favor of flexible working patterns might in fact drive results from a more satisfied – and consequently more efficient – workforce.

Focusing on results

This would require a change in mindset. Swedish app developer Filimundus introduced a six-hour workday, but at the same time it cut out distractions, such as unneeded meetings, to give employees as much of the workday as possible to spend on what they need to do.

Not only that, but managers can encourage switching away from a culture of presenteeism – where being visibly at work, at your desk, for the longest time is a marker of productivity. Rather, they can prioritize the results and tasks accomplished. This means that people know they’re being measured on what they’re seen delivering rather than what they’re seen doing – encouraging faster and more efficient work.