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Has the eight-hour workday run its course?

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This article is one which discusses and presents two different arguments.

Firstly, has the eight-hour workday run its course?

Secondly, is there any weight behind the concept of a five-hour workday being more productive and better for employee retention?

This two-pronged argument is one which has been around for a number of years, as more businesses and organisations seek to break the norm and implement their own ideologies when it comes to what constitutes a full working day, and what their employees can enjoy as workplace benefits. However, the move to working from home which came alongside the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed this particular issue to the forefront of people’s minds and has left us wondering whether the full 9-5 is really the best way to approach the workday.

Uncovering what an 8-hour workday really looks like

Picture for a moment a "standard" day in the office (something that may be more challenging for those who have been working from home for the past 12+ months!)

A typical day in the office runs from 9-5 (ish), but does anyone really work for the full 8 hours?

First you have to factor in an hour or so for lunch, plus a few coffee breaks. Perhaps a morning chat over the printer as you discuss the latest TV drama you watched the night before, or a mid-afternoon run to the shops to pick up a sweet treat to get you through the last couple of hours of work. 

All in all, the likelihood is that your 8-hour workday is at least an hour – maybe even two – less than that, and that’s on a good day.

Of course, it’s not procrastinating and distraction which can be damaging. Another major issue in the corporate work is the toxic increase in companies and organisations which are allowing their employees to work even longer hours, encouraging individuals to believe that only those who work overtime are capable of progressing, gaining promotions and pay rises.

All of these factors join together to paint an eye-opening reality, where the 8 hour day isn’t really doing what it was designed to do.

The advantages of the 5-hour workday

The first thing to remember is that shifting to a 5-hour workday is not an overnight change, nor is it something that will be implemented smoothly and without stumbling blocks. Cutting the working day back by three hours completely transforms the way the day runs, with every member of your team needing to take responsibility for what it means for them and their own workload.

For many companies who have implemented the 5-hour workday, they have witnessed overarching success – but before they got to that stage, they faced months and even years of trials and gradual changes to ensure that the move was productive and did not simply pile extra stress on their teams.

Because that’s the number one issue that every company considering a shift in working hours must focus on – how will it make employees feel, and will cutting their workday simply mean that they have to do the same amount of work but in less time? Is this going to benefit them, or cause them to feel more stressed and under more pressure?

Of course, once you get over the teething issues, the advantages are bountiful and endless. Some of the best include:

  • Giving employees more freedom to arrange their work around their lives, implementing and making allowances for more of a work-life balance.
  • It demonstrates a level of trust from the very top level of the company, that they believe in the ability and drive of their team
  • It increases productivity, with less working hours encouraging employees to be more focussed across the entire (shorter) workday, and less open to distraction.
  • It makes employees feel valued, listened to, and respected.
  • It is a positive step towards becoming a modern, flexible company – and will help you to attract future recruits from future generations in the process.
Does a 5-hour workday work across every industry?

The answer is, in short, no. For many industries, standard roles such as customer service and admin roles need much more than five hours in a day to cover all customer and client enquiries, comments and queries. As such, the question must be rephrased and addressed in a different way – focussing on shift-work and job shares, rather than simply giving everyone in the office a five hour window in which to get their work done.

The fact is, there is not a one-size-fits-all way of managing the modern working day or the modern employee’s needs, and so to some extent every industry and every business must create its own answer to the two main issues discussed in this article. This could be a core working hour schedule, with employees able to assign the remainder of their working hours outside of this core schedule around their own personal preferences and needs. It could be more of a flexible approach whereby an employee is free to set their own working hours. It could simply be cutting the core workday back and putting your trust in your team to know when they are able to leave, and when they may need to put in a little extra time to get the job done.

We believe that a five hour workday presents its advantages, and that when managed smartly and efficiently it can increase the productivity and retention of employees across different levels and different job roles. Concepts such as job sharing, and shift work can be explored as a way of cutting back on working hours without impacting the way the job is done and will allow employees to feel rewarded while employers get the most from their motivated and committed team of employees.

Could it be the new corporate win-win?