How can we overcome the UK’s long hours culture?

Chris Kerridge advises how employers can encourage their staff to switch off and improve their work-life balance

Employees in the UK work some of the longest days in Europe, yet the nation’s productivity problem still persists. The UK is renowned for its long hours culture, with workers averaging around 36.5 hours per week, but many people working as many as 60 or 70 hours per week.

Earlier this year, trade union federation the TUC claimed over 5 million workers put in an average of 7.5 extra unpaid hours a week, missing out on an average of £6,532. 

It’s not irrational to think that staff achieve more when working longer hours – surely the longer you work, the more you get done?

However, despite UK worker’s putting extra hours in, research suggests that reducing hours worked actually boosts overall productivity as employees are more focused on getting the job done, not to mention improving their happiness and overall wellbeing. Additionally, 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 certainly appeal to workers, the reality is that for many organisations taking such radical steps simply isn’t feasible or can be hard to justify due to the nature of the business.

Yet, that doesn’t mean business leaders are powerless to establishing a culture which drives productivity and ensures staff aren’t overworked. Some ways to make improvements include:

Be more flexible

Creating a culture that enables employees to work in the best style and format that suits their personal lives means they can strike a better work-life balance, improving their overall job satisfaction, wellbeing and productivity. Some people may prefer to start earlier than most, 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. 

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. Easing much of the burden from your employees’ desks through automation will also help your people stay relaxed and less likely to take the stresses of work home with them.

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 and respect of their personal lives, you will have motivated employees who feel appreciated. Trust is a two-way street, and if you give your employees greater freedom over their working hours they will be more willing to work a few extra hours or come in for an extra day to meet those deadlines when needed.

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 any concerns they may have about their personal wellbeing at the earliest opportunity. 

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 also shows you appreciate they have a life outside of work.

Chris Kerridge is an employee engagement expert at MHR