Is the five day week an outdated model?

30 December 2013 -


It’s experience versus academia as Bristol Hotel manager Mark Payne and organisational psychology professor Cary Cooper give their views on whether the typical workplace week should change

Flexible working hours are now available to parents and carers in the UK, but as many startups introduce them as standard, should they be available across all industries and for all individuals?

It’s a tricky conundrum to wrestle with – after all, it could quite conceivably be dangerous for an organisation to run a looser schedule if it works for clients that are somewhat more regimented to the Monday-to-Friday grind. But then again, an arrangement that fits in more comfortably with the external commitments of employees could in some cases assist productivity.

Here are our experts’ takes on the ideal shape of a working week


Mark Payne, general manager of the Bristol Hotel

Flexible working is not feasible in a variety of industries or roles. In the hospitality sector, and particularly in hotels, which are 24-hour operations, there is a level and nature of service required that couldn’t be met by staff working flexitime.

While the ideal of a four-day week would appeal to some, such an arrangement would necessitate staff working 10-to-12-hour days. Unsurprisingly, the friendliness, patience and approachability of employees would deteriorate during such long shifts and, in a business where guests come first, this is a risk we just cannot take.

Similarly, our back-office teams, dealing with sales, revenue and reservations, depend on a five-day-week model to work off each other and remain compatible with the schedules of customers and external contacts. Our reservations department, in particular, must be well staffed and fully available during peak booking hours.

Even in a healthy-sized hotel of more than 100 employees, we only have two HR and three financial staff members. It is integral that the rest of our workforce can depend on them to be accessible throughout the day. Splitting their roles and hours into a flexible schedule would be unfair to all and would have a much wider effect across the hotel.

Equally important is the need for those in management positions to show consistent support and guidance for their staff. Managers must lead by example and sometimes that requires working longer hours, particularly when there is a wedding or event on.

However, that doesn’t mean a work-life balance isn’t achievable. Despite working five-day weeks, this isn’t always on a Monday-to-Friday basis. Employees might get Monday and Tuesday off instead of Saturday and Sunday, enabling them to use those services that are only available midweek and organise their home life.

Set, structured hours mean that staff are provided with clear expectations in achievable time frames, enabling them to complete all tasks during the working day and not take work home. This provides an essential distinction between home and work life, meaning free time really is free.


Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health, Lancaster University

The traditional nine-to-five, five-day-week work model does not benefit staff or managers. For the vast majority of industries – particularly those that are knowledge- or service-based – flexible working patterns are very doable and offer many benefits for employees and employers alike.

Long hours in centralised offices, often combined with gruelling commutes, can damage the health of individuals and their families. However, the development of new technology means that this no longer needs to be the case. Working remotely or on the move is easier than ever, enabling people to work effectively around care for children and elderly relatives or other commitments. Employers should therefore have no qualms with adapting to the needs of their staff.

The government is taking steps in the right direction, having introduced the right to request flexible working for carers and parents with children under the age of 16. However, those who don’t fall into these categories are likely to become resentful about not having the same privilege.

Opening the possibility of flexible working to all has advantages for both employers and society as a whole. Offering personalised work patterns results in employees doing their jobs better, enhancing productivity. It enters them into a psychological contract with their employer, where they feel more trusted and valued, and therefore more loyal and committed.

Different arrangements work for different people. For some, a four-day week with longer hours might be best; for others, it might be partly working from home or having later start times. Either way, the variability can create a positive balance for the environment by decreasing people pollution, cars on the road and demands on public transport at peak times.

In 2008, I led a group of scientists on a government Foresight project entitled Mental Capital and Wellbeing. Our cost-benefit analysis showed that if you introduced the right to request flexible working to everyone, not just parents and carers, you would get back nearly three times what you invest. Understandably, there are some jobs where such arrangements are not appropriate, but for the rest, there is no time like the present to make the transition from the five-day slog to a world of adaptable options.

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