Could a shorter working week make you more productive?

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Regardless of whether you’re a contractor or a permanent employee, you will most likely be familiar with the tiredness which is part and parcel of working. Chances are, you’ll also have found yourself begging for Friday to arrive that little bit sooner.

We have taken a closer look into the reduction of working hours, and how this could have a positive impact on your productivity. You can even implement some of these ideas into your own way of working, to give you more time to focus on the things you enjoy.

Shorter hours in the UK

The idea and implementation of a shorter working week is not a new concept. Over time, numerous campaigns have been launched to decrease the number of working hours of employees here in the UK, with the aim of improving their work-life balance. During the 20th century, the emergence of strong trade unions led to a reduction to a 48-hour week, then a 40-hour week in the 1960s. The picture today is similar, and although there is no exact figure, the typical full-time working week consists of 35 or more hours per week.

Working hours in Europe

As well as the UK, countries in Europe have also enjoyed reduced working hours to increase the work-life balance of their workforce. In 2000, France introduced a reduction in working hours, from 39 to 35 per week. Despite this reduction, many workers in France continue to work over this limit, with anything over 35 hours considered overtime.

A study by Eurostat has shown that the United Kingdom has the longest working week, compared to other countries in Europe. With an average of 42 hours worked, this is above the European average of 40.2 worked per week.

Compressed hours

Compressed hours consist of shortening the working week, whilst maintaining the same number of hours.

For example, if you typically work eight hours over five days, compressing your hours could mean four ten-hour days and three days off. Many businesses in the UK allow their employees to carry out compressed hours in order to have more free time to spend doing activities they enjoy, or spending time with friends and family.

There’s even more good news when it comes to contracting. If compressed hours appeal to you, then give it a whirl. There’s nothing to lose – if later you decide it’s not for you, you can always switch back to a schedule which is a better fit.

The Swedish working experiment

In Sweden, the government has funded an experiment to see if a shorter working day has a positive impact on productivity. This has proved popular in Sweden; employees in participating companies have seen an improvement in their mood and health. As well as this improvement to their overall wellbeing, productivity levels have increased. Swedish workers are encouraged to focus on work which is required, rather than wasting time completing unnecessary tasks. They are also encouraged to leave work on time, something which is slowly disappearing here in the UK.

However, some companies in the UK have taken the Swedish approach to the working day, where many places of work compress the hours worked each day but maintain a five-day working week. This is to give their employees more time to spend on leisure, spending time with family and much more.


As previously mentioned, workers in the United Kingdom have a longer working week than other countries in Europe. With a working week above the European average of 41.2 hours per week, you wouldn’t be alone in thinking that more time working means a higher level of output. Upon further research, we discovered that this isn’t necessarily the case, as many countries in Europe work fewer hours than here in the UK but observe a higher level of productivity.

Microsoft Japan

Earlier this year, Microsoft Japan experimented with a new project, called the Work-Life Choice Challenge. Consisting of giving its entire workforce five Fridays off in a row without decreasing pay, the project was designed to give employees enough time to rest and learn between working weeks.

This trial had the following results:

  • Productivity increased by 40%.
  • Employee leave decreased by 25%.
  • 92% of employees liked the shorter week.

Although this was simply a project, this is an example of how a shorter working week could be of benefit to workers around the world.

Options for contractors

As a contractor, your situation is different to that of a permanent employee; you are free to choose a contract that works for you. Contracts typically consist of the following:

  • A task or project to be worked on, over a specific time frame
  • The daily rate

There’s also the opportunity to compress or lessen your working hours if the work is completed on time. This makes it possible to work around your lifestyle, and any current commitments you have.

With you all the way

Contractors have a high level of freedom when it comes to choosing their working hours and structure. If this WorkStyle appeals to you, then contracting through a limited company could be an option worth considering. We will look after your finances, leaving you with more time to spend on the things you enjoy the most. Contact our Best Advice team for more information.