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Is the UK Economy Cut Out for Shorter Working Days?

There’s so much discussion about the amount of time people work or don’t work as the case may be. Doctors say work is good for health (but not too much because we can get tired and stressed and that’s bad for us).

The UK’s productivity is not great. Last year a report disclosed that only Japan in the G7 performed worse than the UK in terms of output per hour worked. Are we having to work longer to achieve the same because we’re inefficient (or worse)?

If you read Tim Ferriss’ (The Four Hour Week),then you find another view entirely. By the way, the four hour week does not and cannot apply to service businesses – which according to Government statistics in December 2015 form 74% of the 5.4 million business. Incidentally 95% of the UK’s business come into the ‘micro business category, employing nine or fewer people. You tend to have to work longer in these small businesses because there’s an enormous amount of work and cost involved in growing and running a business and fewer people to do it.

The average UK working day is 8.5 hours and we have the fifth longest working day in Europe. A YouGov survey found that 27% of people in the UK believe a working day would be more productive if it were seven hours long. (I wonder what the basis for that belief in higher productivity is?) 44% of people said that four days would be the length of an ideal working week. Recently Sweden adopted a six hour working day. Toyota centres in Gothenburg have had six hour working days in place for over ten years (but German productivity and work ethic is really quite different to the UK style). The feedback from doing this is that employees appear happier, the Company has a lower turnover rate and profits have increased.

Contractual hours are decided by agreement between employer and employee. The Working Time Regulations govern the hours which most people work.

  • There is a limit of an average 48 hours that any worker can be required to work in a week. An individual may opt-out of this if he wants to work longer hours.
  • 11 consecutive hours’ rest should be given to a worker in any 24 hour period to allow a worker to rest properly before starting work again.
  • If any worker has a working day which is longer than six hours he will be entitled to a 20 minute rest break. Any rest break does not have to be paid time.
  • There are also special regulations in place for young workers (under the age of 18). A young worker is entitled to a 30 minute break if he works more than 4.5 hours, 12 hours of daily rest and 48 hours weekly rest.

The norm in the UK is a five day working week for those who work full time. Under Working Time Regulations a worker is entitled to a minimum of one day off each week.

A breach of Working Time Regulations could lead to a complaint at an employment tribunal. ‘Improvement’ or ‘prohibition’ notices may be issued by the Health and Safety Executive and the worst offenders could receive a £5,000 fine on conviction in a magistrate’s court or an unlimited fine in the crown court.

Perhaps we could achieve a shorter working day if our productivity per capita increased and was sustained at a higher level? It would be an interesting experiment and I certainly know a number of MDs who say that they don’t mind how many or few hours employees work provided they hit KPIs in the right way.

We deal with the good, the bad and the ugly of HR. If you need help resolving problems with hours of work or any other HR issues, give us a call on 01908 26 26 28.

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