In the late 18th century, when companies started to maximize the output of their factories, owners wanted them to be productive round the clock. To make things more efficient, people had to work more hours and 10-16 hour days became the norm.
Robert Owen, a Welsh social reformer, was one of the founders of utopian socialism and the cooperative movement. He campaigned to have people work no more than ten hours per day which soon dropped to eight hours. His slogan was “Eight hour’s labour, eight hour’s recreation, eight hours’ rest”.
Ford was one of the first companies to adopt the eight hour working day in 1914. As well as cutting his employees’ work day the company doubled their salary and the result was a harder working workforce which doubled Ford’s profit within two years.
In 1930, cereal maker Kellogg's introduced a six-hour work day and the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that, within a century, only extreme workaholics would be clocking up more than 15 hours a week in the office.
In January Sweden changed their eight-hour work day to six hours. The idea behind the six-hour day is to increase employees’ productivity, make them happier in the workplace and allow them to enjoy their private lives. One Toyota centre in Gothenburg, Sweden opted to change their working hours to six over thirteen years ago. The company has since seen happier staff and a lower staff turnover rate.
Last month a survey was conducted by Crown Workplace Relocations to see whether employers and employees would want to work six-hour days in the UK. 83% of HR professionals surveyed said they would ‘possibly’ consider the change and 17% said that they ‘definitely’ would consider the change. Out of all professionals asked not one said that they would not consider the change (and to be honest who wouldn’t?).
The survey spoke to 1,021 office workers and 503 business decision makers. Three quarters, 75% of those surveyed said that they wanted to work a shorter day and 60% of employers said that they would consider implementing a six-hour work day in their business.
When both employees and employers were asked why they would want the change 28% said it would improve family relationships, 27% said it would make them more creative at work and 16% said that they would take less sick days. Only 12% felt that they would be less productive if their employer were to adopt six-hour days.
Most employees would love to have their working day reduced to six hours but many businesses would not be able to accommodate this, fewer hours often means more staff cover which means more cost.
The work place is changing. We live in a 24/7 world where customers demand immediate access to goods and service at all hours of the night and day. Different business have different requirements so it may not be easy to go to a 30 hour week in the near future. If you bear in mind, that the vast number of businesses in the UK are SMEs so while small is often more dynamic, small businesses often feel costs more acutely. While it would be lovely to reduce the number of hours worked for the same or more pay, work has to be done. When the French 35 hour week was introduced it was hailed as a breakthrough. But if you examine the French economy and efficiency there are serious flaws.
But who know? One day we all could be taking a page out of Sweden’s book and be working six hour days.
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