They’re taking inspiration from Sweden and saying no to the toxic culture of presenteeism.
Our Scandinavian neighbours are considered the happiest people in the world - not least because they put a great emphasis on work-life balance, encouraging citizens to embrace hygge (aka the little things in life), and refusing to entertain the idea of presenteeism.
So, in a land where staying late is more likely to earn you a lecture on inefficiency than a pat on the back, it came as no surprise when Sweden introduced a six-hour working day.
The results were overwhelmingly positive, increasing productivity, lowering turnover rates, reducing sick leave, and boosting the emotional wellbeing of employees.
No surprises that happier and more rested workers are far more likely to perform at their absolute best.
Companies in the UK, however, are still caught up in a draining culture of work-every-hour-the-day-offers-to-prove-yourself.
Despite six out of 10 bosses in the country agreeing that cutting hours would benefit their business, we’re still - against out better judgement - invested in the habit of overtime working.
The average working week for Brits remains 43.6 hours, or 8 hours and 40 minutes per day – which isn’t great news, considering that longer working hours have been linked with an increased risk of strokes, heart disease, and obesity (not to mention increased risk of mental health problems brought about by associated stress).
But times are slowly changing. The following innovative companies are trailblazing a six-hour working day in the UK - and reaping the benefits. Read on to find out how (and laminate for your own boss’ consideration…).
Bright Horizon Cloud (accountancy firm)
In 2016, this Dorset-based accountancy firm reduced their working hours to ensure that employees are in the office for just under 30 hours each week.
Better still, they’re allowing staff to work their new six-hour days for the same pay as they received for the original eight-hour regime.
Company director Emily Hyland, who founded the business, told The Herald: “We are a modern breed of accountants and as such our business practices should follow suit.
“We are hoping that this new policy will mean that we can recruit top people, reduce sick days, improve staff morale and productivity. However admittedly, we are taking a bit of a gamble.”
Conversation Creation (communications agency)
Bristol-based communications agency Conversation Creation began testing six-hour days over five days a week in 2016, alongside eight-hour days across a four-day week.
Sam Espensen, who owns the company, told The Guardian that the positive effects were noticeable within the first few months – and that she herself has found that she is most productive between 7am and 2pm.
She said: “I am absolutely convinced that we let work stretch out to fill the entire week at the moment but that actually we can juggle work around and condense it.
“What we do know is that we really can work harder for shorter periods of time if we know there is a big fat carrot of an extra day off.”
Senshi Digital (marketing agency)
Senshi Digital, a Glasgow marketing agency, also adopted the Scandi attitude to work in 2016, with a typical working day seeing employees in the office from 9:30am to 3:30pm. They work for 45 minutes and have a 5 minute break away from the desk and take 30 mins for lunch around quarter to 1.
Speaking to Flexi Work Force, Chris Torres, the company’s director, explained that the changes have already brought about benefits.
“Productivity has increased because people are more focused on tasks for 45 minutes stretches,” he said, adding that “typically on an 8 hour working day 2 hours are wasted.
“An hour for lunch but then another hour being distracted by Facebook or anything but the tasks.”
Agent Marketing (marketing firm)
Staff at this Liverpool company already knew that their bosses cared about their emotional wellbeing; they enjoy daily meditation sessions, weekly yoga classes, and monthly massages.
However, in a bid to become the best business ever (in our eyes, at least), Agent Marketing swapped their old working hours for a 9am to 4pm day back in 2016, with a mandatory one-hour lunchbreak where employers have to leave their desks.
Ben Spencer, the company’s head of creative, told The Huffington Post that he has been making the most of his added free time.
“I like to snowboard, so one day I finished early and went to an indoor ski slope in Manchester which meant I beat the evening rush,” he said.
“It was brilliant – I pretty much had the whole slope to myself. It’s also nice to be able to go home and spend a bit more time with my fiancée and daughter.”
Potato (web development agency)
With offices in London, Bristol, and San Francisco, web development agency Potato may not have a formal six-hour working day in place, but in 2016 they hopped on the Scandi wellbeing bandwagon by ensuring that there are no fixed working hours drawn up in staff contracts.
This means that their staff are allowed to turn up and leave work whatever time they like – as long as the work gets done.
Chief executive Jason Cartwright told The Guardian: “At Potato we work on the basis that creative, complex work just doesn’t fit nicely into the nine to five mould, and the same is true for the 40-hour work week.
“Instead, we give our teams the responsibility of managing their time, believing that they are the best judges of the time that needs to be put in to achieve the best result on a project. By opening up the working day, we can cater to people’s workplace idiosyncrasies to let them do what feels right rather than what a company policy says is right.
“For example, not everyone is a morning person, but they might work well late into the night. In a nine to five model we’d lose at least half of their most productive hours.”
the7stars (media agency)
Consistently voted one of the best places to work in the UK, with perennially happy employees, the7stars have also ditched the rule book and started treating their employees like grown ups.
They’ve given their staff unlimited paid holiday, as well as flexible working hours – and ditched time sheets, clocking on and off, and holiday forms. Just like Potato, they trust staff to get the work done – in the hours they see fit.
“By ditching hierarchies and being prepared to share sensitive commercial information with staff, the7stars has become a community rather than a corporation,” co-founder Jenny Biggam explained to Stylist.
“People appreciate being trusted and never once in ten years of being in business have they abused it by leaking privileged information.”
If you, like Dolly Parton, are sick of the 9-5, then it might be worth packing it all in and joining the #flexirevolution.
Whether you negotiate a new contract with your boss, apply to one of the companies above, or search for a job with flexible working hours on specialist job search site Flexiworkforce.com, it seems as if now is as good a time as any to turn your back on presenteeism once and for all.
If you’re still uncertain, try to say no to overtime and don’t work through your lunch hour; you’ve been hired to do a job, and you can do it in the hours you’re actually being paid to be there.
As Helen Russell, the author of The Year of Living Danishly, tells Stylist: “Get your work done the best way you can, then go home. Don’t worry about what anyone else is up to - it only takes one person to break the cycle and help change workplace culture.
“What are you still doing here? GO! #VivalaRevolution”
Please note: this article was originally published in 2016.