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Different ways of working

20 February 2013

At the beginning of February, the tiny West African country of Gambia introduced a four-day working week for its public-sector workers.  The President’s office supported this decision by stating that the extra day ‘will allow Gambians to devote more time to prayers, social activities and agriculture’ and ultimately make for a healthier and happier nation. The move has not been without its critics however, with many arguing that it will be disruptive to the rest of the working population as well as encouraging a culture of increasing ‘laziness’.

The question of a shorter working week has been the subject of much debate recently, with Ghanaians reportedly eager for a similar move and a group of leading German academics calling for a 30-hour working week to help combat rising unemployment.

Although a permanent three day weekend might seem like a luxury, would it really succeed in making us happier and more productive? Research has indicated that we are at our best when performing in shorter, more intense periods. A shorter working week would inevitably mean longer working hours, heavier workloads and fewer opportunities to interact with the rest of the working world.

But should we even be pushing for more relaxed working conditions in the first place? Some have suggested that a constant striving for increased happiness at work is too idealistic, pointing out that it undermines work’s primary function as a ‘disutility’. This view posits work as being central to our wellbeing, but largely as a result of a retrospective view – having a job can bring us satisfaction in the long run, but actually doing the work itself is somewhat less enjoyable. Aren’t wages are a form of compensation, after all?

Regardless of whether we should see happiness at work as a right, businesses are increasingly realising that they must invest more in their human capital in order to ensure long-term growth and success. As a society, we are working harder, longer and pushing back the retirement age. However attractive it might seem, a four-day week might not be a practical solution to keeping employees motivated. But we still need to think seriously about how we can improve people’s health and wellbeing at work, to preserve and increase levels of energy and enthusiasm during the decades ahead.

Through our relationship with Business in the Community’s Workwell programme, we’re helping to implement a crucial change in how we perceive our working lives. Through its interactive model, Workwell provides practical solutions to help businesses take action and adopt a proactive approach to employee wellness and engagement. Workwell comprises of a coalition of business leaders dedicated to improving levels of understanding of the role of workplace wellbeing.

In September, 2012 Workwell launched a pilot benchmark for all FTSE 100 companies on their reporting of wellness and engagement of their employees. When its results are published in April, we will be given an indication of how and where we need to improve to ensure that we are fulfilled both in and out of work.