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Will flexible working hours make you happier and more productive?

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Swedish businesses adopted a shorter working day last month and with the last bank holiday of the summer just gone, is it time to ditch the typical working week?

It’s half past three on a Friday afternoon. Even though you’ve just come back from a three day weekend (possibly even longer if you’ve timed your annual leave well) somehow, you feel even more jaded than you would normally. You curse that you didn’t take the bank holiday easy as you beg for the sweet relief of another weekend to recover from the slightly longer weekend that’s just passed.

Of course the conversation in your head starts playing. What if I worked a four day week? Or if I could work flexible hours? Maybe work five hours a day. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Well seeing as Swedish business practice seems to be a hot topic in business news at the moment, maybe it is time we adopt a shorter, more flexible working schedule. Many companies are moving to a six hour day, a move that the city of Gothenburg adopted 13 years ago. 

It’s thought that working outside of the typical 9-5 could lead to a happier workplace. Dr Sanklap Chaturvedi is a professor of organisational behaviour and leadership at Imperial College Business School, says that the move to a more flexible schedule could lead to increased happiness: “Flexible working hours and environment has the potential to create a happier workforce.

“As far as the quality, safety and productivity are not compromised there are several physiological and psychological benefits. The idea is to focus on ‘work’ more than ‘work in the office’.”

The ability to fit in family commitments around work is also beneficial. Be it a new mother coming back from maternity leave with the ability to tailor their working life around their new family, or an employee looking after an elderly relative, optimising personal time increases satisfaction. 

However, it’s important that employers do not use flexibility as an excuse to increase workloads. Vaughn Tan, assistant professor at the UCL School of Management said: “flexible working hours only increase worker happiness when management is diligent about not abusing the flexibility of those hours.”

With a reasonable agreement, it’s clear that flexible hours and the balance it can bring increase happiness. But what about productivity? Well the two often go hand in hand. The ability to choose working hours often leads to increased motivation, Professor Tan added: “The productivity increase probably comes from a better fit between work demands and the time the work is actually done.
“In some cases a non-conventional work week arrangement represents a mutual relationship of trust between the worker and the company. This in itself can increase motivation."

Does this mean UK businesses will drop the 9-5? Almost definitely not. Some professions are still fastidiously tied to a clearly defined eight hour period where the office is open. But with the Swedish model as a guinea pig and the mounting research into the benefits of flexible hours, maybe we’ll soon find other times to make a living.


Tom Ritchie

By Tom Ritchie

Tom is an editorial assistant at Changeboard.

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