A debate that has raged for decades now is whether the traditional 8-hour workday is appropriate for the modern office. We live in a world where a lot of office activity can be automated by computers, and yet we still work from morning to sunset, which can be especially draining in winter. Why is this the case? Have the optimistic predictions of yesteryear (economist John Maynard Keynes predicted a future 15-hour work week in the 30s) not come true because they’re unfeasible, or because we’re too bound by tradition?
The arguments for a shorter work week in office environments have centred around the fact that while office work isn’t physically exhausting, it can wear people down mentally, especially if they’re new and inexperienced. Mental exhaustion seems to be the defining illness of the information age, as we huddle around TV sets, computer monitors and smartphones to the detriment of our sleep patterns, which then makes us wake up feeling worse and worse.
Add the stressful nature of working in a busy office, and many people have trouble keeping up with the 24/7 nature of work life. People get less sleep than they should, they get stressed out both in and out of work, and they may consume caffeine to keep up with the rest of the pack, which only slows them down in the long term.
For many, shorter work weeks seems like a quick-fix that will actually work: people get more free time after work so they get the chance to unwind, avoiding the vicious cycle described earlier entirely, preserving their mental fitness in the long term and preventing burnout.
There are other arguments in favour of a shorter work week: many claim that they will focus harder on their work when they have less time to work on it, they may gain a feeling of empowerment and control over their lives when they don’t have to devote so much time to work, and so on.
But many will also say that, as a concept, it isn’t feasible without either reducing workloads or hiring new staff to take on the work that’s left behind. However, longer work weeks have been demonstrated to be less efficient per hour than a shorter work week, and its effects on mental health are nothing to scoff at.
There’s also the fact that other countries and even other businesses in the UK have implemented shorter work weeks and aren’t suffering the doomsday predictions suggested by advocates of longer work weeks. Countries that have implemented shorter work weeks in legislation include Germany (one of the strongest economies in Europe), Norway and Sweden. Perhaps it’s time to learn from our neighbours and adapt to the changing times.
At The Change Consultancy, we’re excited about taking new technology, methods and workplace philosophy to reinvigorate companies and get them running at maximum efficiency in an age where change is fast and confusing.