Tried-and-tested: this finance firm adopted a five hour working day and boosted productivity

31 August 2018 -

Alarm clockThe five-hour working day could help managers recruit talent and increase productivity

Jermaine Haughton

In recent years, researchers have insisted that shorter working hours drive productivity. So one international finance firm put the theory to the test.

In February 2017, Collins SBA introduced a five-hour working day and allowed employees to leave the office at 2pm if they had completed their work.

Collins SBA’s managing director Jonathan Elliot was forced to rethink the traditional nine-to-five model when caring for his wife who had cancer. He realised that having more demands on his time motivated him to clear his to-do list much more efficiently.

Inspired by successful six-hour working day trials in Sweden, Elliot cut staff hours from eight to five per day, insisting that the firm’s client service and business outcomes must remain high.

How the five-hour working day can work for you

To make the five-hour working day a success, Collins SBA set core working hours between 9am and 1pm when everyone is expected to be in the office. This allows communication and collaboration, and colleagues are expected to work five hours without a break. Employees who work at least six hours must then take a 30-minute break.

The company’s reception is open all day for external enquiries and employees can still take important meetings with clients after 2pm.

The results of a five-hour working day

Productivity improved substantially at the company, with employees developing better ways to work. “The goal wasn’t just to do more in less time, but to do things better,” says Elliot. “The fact that our financials have remained about the same shows we have increased our efficiency.”

Collins SBA is Tasmania-based. In the UK, poor productivity is said to cost UK businesses £84bn per year, with output lagging around 17% behind international rivals. Competent managers who challenge the ‘groupthink’ of professional life were among the recommendations to boost productivity made in CMI’s Management Manifesto.

Read more: How to close the £84bn productivity gap

The working culture shift at Collins SBA saw hour-long meetings in boardrooms replaced with a quick stand-up discussions, and communication tool Yammer preferred to email for quickly updating colleagues on non-urgent matters. Striking right at the heart of the ‘long hours culture’, Elliot also reports that employees saw an improvement in their mental and physical health as they had more time to rest, spend with their family members, and to exercise.

This finding is particularly relevant because British managers are also suffering from a decline in their wellbeing because of overworking. The CMI Quality of Working Life report from January 2018 reveals managers worked an extra 44 days of unpaid overtime last year – up from 40 days in 2015. Some 59% of managers admitted they suffer from being ‘always on’, frequently checking their emails and work communications outside of the office. A tenth of respondents had been forced to take sick leave because of stress.

Boost to Recruitment

A shorter working day has proved one way for Collins SBA to distinguish itself from major competitors, especially large corporations.

According to the firm's operations director Claudia Parsons, the move has increased application numbers and allowed the company to hire several high performers.

Parson has said: “Previously people would look past us to a better-known brand, so we struggled to attract great talent. Now that we have something completely different to offer, people are choosing us.”

Could the five-hour working day work for your business?

Managers are advised to validate the suitability of a shorter working day for their own businesses. Project-based teams or professionals who have greater autonomy over their work can benefit from reduced hours. However, it may be impractical for businesses that need to stay open for customers to visit, such as restaurants, cafes, and retail stores.

Secondly, managers must consider the character and personality of their teams. Allowing employees to have just four or five hours to complete their daily work may be the answer for fast workers, but for those who naturally like to take more time, it could cause tremendous stress and team disharmony.

Key employees left paddleboard business Tower, after boss Stephan Aarstol launched a five-hour working day in 2015, which began to hamper results. Now, Tower only implements the five-hour working day during summer months.

Read more: Need to boost productivity? Look to the CMI Management Manifesto

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