From Five to Three: Short Working Weeks Prove Productive in Study

13th June 2016

New research from Australia suggests that people over the age of 40 would benefit from working 3 day weeks. Are businesses set to change the way they operate to accommodate older workers?

The Research

If you mention the words “three day week” to anyone in the UK over the age of 40, chances are they will immediately conjour up memories of coal miners strikes in the 1970s and the need to save electricity.

But a new study in Australia may be about to change what those words come to mean, with research showing that workers over 40 perform at their best if they work three days a week.

In the study, participants were asked to read words aloud, to recite lists of numbers backwards and to match letters and numbers under time pressure.

The results showed that those participants who worked 25 hours a week tended to achieve the best scores.

So does this mean that companies around the world are about to change the way they work to boost productivity?

Well it might not be that straightforward. In a challenge to the findings of the research, it seems that the decline in cognitive functioning is very marginal up until 35 hour weeks, with a much more rapid decline in performance after 40 hours per week.

Peak Performance

Employers are increasingly looking at ways to get the best out of their teams, with a number of schemes and ways of working being readily adopted to make it more about what you produce than the hours you work that counts.

So if three day weeks aren’t the answer, how do you get the best out of your workers and ensure the workplace is as productive as possible?

Flexible Working

As employers begin to relax the rules on a strict 9-5 attendance, flexible working schemes are increasingly becoming popular. This can not only help people that have other commitments such as childcare, but also provide the opportunity for people that may work better from home to get more done in the day rather than toiling away at their desk.

This is about finding what works best for both employees and the company and creating an atmosphere where people can get things done in a way that suits them.

Obviously it won’t work with every company, for example where a number of people are required on-site between certain hours, but allowing individuals the flexibility to work in a way that suits them will help to increase the amount of work that is done, as well as create the goodwill that comes with an open display of trust.

Workplace Well-being

Workplace well-being programs are increasing in the UK, with their ROI now being calculated in a way that makes them awfully appealing to management.

From schemes such as making fresh fruit readily available to give staff a healthy alternative to the vending machine to on-site physiotherapy and breakout spaces, making staff feel happy, healthy and relaxed at work are now reaping the benefits, with increases to productivity delivering a healthy return on the investment put in.

What we think:
Productivity will continue to be an important issue as more and more data becomes available on how people work effectively. Forward thinking bosses and HR teams that are keen to explore alternatives to the traditional 9-5 will lead the way in finding innovative ways to get the best out of their teams and data driven analysis will be at the heart of this.
Whether this will result in 3 day weeks for the over forties remains to be seen, but we think that HR and recruitment teams should be leading the way when it comes to driving programs to improve productivity and increase staff well-being.

"From schemes such as making fresh fruit readily available to give staff a healthy alternative to the vending machine to on-site physiotherapy and breakout spaces, making staff feel happy, healthy and relaxed at work are now reaping the benefits, with increases to productivity delivering a healthy return on the investment put in."