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Making short work of long hours

With Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer John McDonnell committing Labour to a reduction in the average working week to 32 hours within a decade and to the establishment of an independent Working Time Commission, the issue of Britain’s working culture is firmly on the political agenda. It is also a pressing issue for many employers, as they seek to address low productivity or improve staff welfare. Here, Chris Kerridge employee engagement expert at HR and payroll provider MHR, explains what employers can do now to boost productivity and tackle the UK’s long working hours culture

Employees in the UK have some of the longest working hours in Europe, yet the nation’s productivity problem persists.

The UK is renowned for its long hours culture, with workers averaging around 36.5 hours per week, and many working as many as 60 or 70 hours per week. Earlier this year, the TUC claimed that more than 5 million workers put in an average of 7.5 extra unpaid hours a week, missing out on an average of £6,532 in pay.

It’s not irrational to think that the more hours staff work, the more they will achieve. However, research suggests that reducing hours worked actually boosts overall productivity, as employees are more focused on getting the job done, whilst also improving their happiness and overall wellbeing. In a tightening labour market, it’s also a great incentive to help organisations attract and retain top talent.

While the benefits of working shorter hours are well documented and the idea of a four-day week or reduced hours for the same pay will appeal to workers, the reality is that for many organisations such radical steps are hard to justify or not feasible due to the nature of the business

Of course, that doesn’t mean business leaders are powerless to do anything. Here are five steps they can take to create a culture that drives productivity and ensures staff aren’t overworked.

1 Be more flexible. Creating a culture that enables employees to work in a way that suits them personally will enable staff to strike a better work-life balance and improve their overall job satisfaction, wellbeing and productivity. Some people may prefer to start early, while others may wish to work late into the evening. Creating a happier and healthier workforce is proven to result in fewer sick days, so it’s a win-win all-round.

2 Automate and be free. Have you considered how much time your employees waste on meetings and routine admin? Using technology to automate admin tasks can help reduce the time needed to complete them – time that can be given back to employees to spend with their family or on hobbies and interests. With more free time on their hands, they will arrive at work the next day fresh and raring to go and are less likely to take the stresses of work home with them.

3 Establish a culture of trust. An outdated mindset still exists amongst many business leaders that employees need to be in the office to get the job done. If you put trust in your people, providing flexibility in respect of their personal lives, you will have motivated employees who feel appreciated. Trust is a two-way street. If you give your employees greater freedom over their working hours, they are likely to be more willing to work a few extra hours or come in for an extra day to meet deadlines when needed.

4 Introduce regular check-ins. Open and regular face-to-face communication is the key to building trust between managers and employees. Regular conversations enable managers to gain an insight into individual performance, progress and goals, while allowing employees to raise concerns they may have about their personal wellbeing at the earliest opportunity.

5 Encourage people to use their annual leave. Every year over half of the UK workforce fail to use their full holiday entitlement. In today’s digital era, it’s extremely difficult to switch off from work, but encouraging employees to take a holiday now and again can help maintain productivity levels and reduce the risk of burnout. Reminding people to use their full annual leave entitlement shows you appreciate they have a life outside work.

Chris Kerridge is an employee engagement expert at MHR, a specialist provider of HR, payroll and analytics software and services. More than 1,000 companies, from SMEs to large multi-national corporates, rely on MHR for help with their talent management, HR, payroll and business analytics. Customers include Admiral, TK Maxx, Cath Kidston, Betty’s and Taylors, Sytner, Signet Group, Regatta, Nandos, Laing O’Rourke, Wessex Water, University of Reading, Caterpillar UK, East Riding of Yorkshire Council, Salvation Army, The British Transport Police and more.

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