Ways of working are in a constant state of flux, and the upheaval of the pandemic has only accelerated the pace and concentration of change. In today’s business landscape, how can organisations not just keep up, but stay ahead of the curve and future-proof themselves? The answer is simple: data. As a Transformation Director and business advisor with over 20 years of experience in large scale back office transformation, Michael Hyltoft is an expert in using data and AI to drive and execute change. He shares his unique insights and advice in using data to add value in this five-part series.
There are many professions in which long working weeks are – or at least have been – the default; so much a part of the professional landscape that they’re simply not questioned. However, extensive working hours can lead to a variety of negative effects on an individual's physical and mental health, as well as their personal and professional relationships, which has a knock-on impact on businesses. With employee decline comes increased absenteeism and turnover rates (and the associated costs of recruiting, hiring and training new employees), and decreased productivity, not to mention increased healthcare and workers' compensation costs as the risk of workplace injuries and accidents rises.
However, much has changed in the wake of the pandemic, with employee expectations shifting with regards to work/life balance and many now working flexibly and remotely. So what does the landscape currently look like? And how can you use data to ascertain how your organisation measures up with regards to the long working week?
When looking at the working week, it’s important to differentiate between the actual hours worked and the span of the working week. Many employees now no longer work a “traditional” 9 to 5. They have greater flexibility and can choose to work earlier or later in the day to fit around caring responsibilities, activities, and so on. This is actually part of a much larger trend, with data from the Bank of England showing that average weekly hours worked in the UK have been steadily falling since the 18th century. Nevertheless, the span of the working week (from the first to the last activity in the day) has been increasing recently.
It is possible to build a picture of the hours worked by your employees and the span of their working weeks – just use your internal email and calendar system. This way, you can pull the mean data and get a real sense of when they are working. Armed with this, you can better support your employees – watching out for those at risk of burnout, or those who could benefit from a change in working patterns.
As you can see from the graph below, when you pull the data, it’s not uncommon to see variability in how many working hours an individual may deliver in any given time period. That’s why it’s always important to look at the data over time, so you can get a better sense of the overall trends. There may be very good reasons for an intense work period (current project) or a slow one (home responsibilities).
This data will also give you useful insights into your organisation’s general working practices. Is there a culture of back-to-back meetings during “normal” working hours, leading team members to have to resort to returning calls and emails in the evenings? Is there an acceptance of meetings scheduled outside working hours? You can use the insights that you glean to start some healthy discussions about working practices in your company, and drill down into what works best for you.
The four-day working week has been gaining traction over the years, and the recent results of the 4-Day Week pilot programme in the UK have added to the momentum. Aiming to see if companies and their employees could work smarter, rather than longer, organisations across the country trialled shorter weeks as part of the programme. The findings were compelling, with researchers revealing that 71% of employees reported lower levels of “burnout” and 39% felt less stressed. There was also a 57% drop in employee attrition and company revenue hardly changed (according to the companies able to provide data). At the end of the trial, 92% of participating organisations will be continuing with the four-day week.
There is no right or wrong when it comes to working hours, there’s only what’s right for your organisation. However, data gives you the tools you need to have insightful conversations about the subject and potentially explore the actions you can take to reduce/increase working hours as needed. You’ll also be able to keep track of any changes and ensure you and your workforce are happy with the direction things are taking (or give you time to make proactive changes). The result? A more engaged, productive and happy team, which is in everyone’s best interests.
Next up in the ‘Driving change with data’ series: Autonomy in the workplace’, and the benefits it will bring to your organisation.