Cutting the amount of time I spend working has boosted my productivity.
The Easter period is a favourite for many people, not just because of the sheer amount of chocolate you can get away with grazing on, but also due to the consecutive four-day weeks so many of us enjoy.
But calls are growing ever louder that these four-day weeks should not just be the preserve of the Easter holidays, but a more regular fixture across the year.
As someone who once was a little sceptical about the idea, I must admit I’ve come around to it in recent years, in no small part due to my own experiences of shuffling my work schedule around to enjoy more four-day weeks.
Addressing the presenteeism problem
It’s no secret that there is a productivity issue in the UK. We spend huge amounts of time at work, but the actual amount we produce, in terms of goods and services, is poor by international standards.
A study by insurer Vitality recently found that businesses are losing a whopping £81 billion a year as a result of the combination of ill health and presenteeism.
I’ll be honest, there have been plenty of occasions when I was guilty of presenteeism. I was there, but I wasn’t exactly producing as much as I could.
There are all sorts of factors at play here, with health a big one. Loads of us traipse into work when we aren’t up to it, because we feel that we must, as if we will be judged for having the temerity to fall ill.
This is multiplied many times over when it comes to mental rather than physical health too.
Unfortunately, it can become a vicious cycle. You go into work unwell, because you feel you have to, only to become more ill, further denting the quality of your work.
The attractions of flexible working
I went freelance about two and a half years ago, and a big driver in that decision was a need for a bit more flexibility over my working hours.
I wanted to be able to join in with the school run and help out my family more, and then fit my work around those occasions, rather than having to fit my family around work.
But I also wanted to try to address the presenteeism I knew I had been guilty of.
A lengthy commute combined with the stresses of an office-based job had played havoc with my health, both physical and mental. I needed to change things up.
One thing I hadn’t appreciated was how much more productive I could be outside of the traditional work environment. Working from my sofa perhaps isn’t great for my back, but there’s no question that I get an awful lot more done now.
There are a couple of drivers here. The first is simply the blind panic that comes from being self-employed, that the work will suddenly dry up leaving me and my loved ones destitute.
Knowing that if you don’t get the work done, you won’t get paid is a marvellous motivator.
But there’s also the knowledge that if I get the work done, I can take a bit of extra time off.
And truth be told I’ve been able to take an awful lot of four-day weeks over the last year as the prospect of a three-day weekend has pushed me to ensure that I’ve got the work done swiftly, rather than prolonging it.
Because I get more rest in those three days off, I have far more energy and drive in the time I devote to work, which means I then produce more.
Boosting the lowest paid
A report in April from the New Economics Foundation think tank suggested that reducing our working hours, without cutting pay, would increase demand for products and services.
In other words, businesses wouldn’t lose out as they would be selling more items, since we tend to spend more when we are off work and enjoying ourselves than while we are at our desks.
The research suggests that combining moving to a four-day week with faster increases in minimum wages would not only boost our productivity at work, but also give a serious helping hand to the disposable incomes of the poorest families.
The research also implied this move may boost disposable incomes by an average of 13% for the poorest 50% of families and as much as 26% for the poorest tenth of families.
I’m still not sure it will ever happen - a four-day week seems too extreme a shift for many to stomach.
But the current system clearly isn’t getting the most out of our workforce.
It may be that as these voices calling for a re-examination of how we work get louder, change will - finally - be on its way.
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