It’s National #4pmFinish Day! But what are the benefits of leaving work early?

Today is National #4pmFinish day.

It’s a campaign by Red Bull that wants people in the UK to get more productive while they’re in work, so they can have an extra hour to spend with family and friends, doing the things they love.

We think it’s a great idea – but why stop at just one day?

Over the last 2 years, companies in Sweden have been experimenting with the idea of a 6 hour work day and the results are interesting for employers and staff alike.

Staff are happier when they finish earlier

One of the most positive outcomes of the Swedish experiment into 6 hour working days is improved staff satisfaction.

In one test in a care home, staff working 6 hour days were 20% happier and reported having more energy both in work and in their spare time.

This is important as happiness has a direct correlation with how productive people can be.

Research has shown that happy employees are 12% more productive. That means anything that benefits staff wellbeing is definitely worth considering.

But it comes down to more than just productivity.

Imagine for example you run a hotel or a restaurant. How your staff behave directly affects your customers’ experience.

If your staff are happier, they’ll be nicer to the customers, and those customers will have a much better time.

A happy customer is more likely to come back again, which means more repeat business.

Although reducing staff working hours could cost more, the benefits have the potential to recoup those loses.

Staff working shorter hours take fewer sick days

During the Swedish trial, sick leave fell by 10%.

Every year, sick leave costs the UK economy £18bn, and that number continues to rise every year.

But it’s not just the damage to the economy that’s an issue – if you’re a small business staff absences can play havoc with your entire business.

In larger companies and corporations, there are lots of people doing the same job as part of a big team, so a couple of absences can easily be covered.

In many small businesses that is not the case.

In a small businesses people are often the only person doing their job, and they often cover multiple roles.

For example, your marketer might also respond to customer enquiries on the website. Your receptionist might also help with the accounting admin.

What that means is that when someone unexpectedly phones in sick, not only do you have no way to cover them, but you could be losing out on a number of business-critical functions.

If you’re a small business, you should take every step to minimise the number of days staff take off sick. Offering shorter working hours could be one way to do it.

Staff take less time off

Another finding from the study was that as well as taking fewer sick days, staff took less time off generally when working fewer hours.

This suggests that as staff have to spend fewer hours in work, they are better able to manage their work life balance, and don’t have to take time off to stay on top of things outside of work.

But why would that matter?

Well, think of it like this.

You only get so many days off a year. When you have to use some of those days to run errands or to make appointments it can be frustrating. You want to spend your annual leave on holiday or having fun, not waiting in for a builder.

By allowing staff to work fewer hours, they have more time to run these errands and make these appointments, so they can save their annual leave for fun.

This is good for two reasons.

First off, your staff will be happier if they feel like they’re using their annual leave for holidays and trips out. This will benefit productivity in the long term.

The second reason is it means staff are less likely to request a day off at the last minute, because they’ll be using their days for things they plan in advance.

Last-minute days off are difficult to manage as they either result in someone taking the day off with no time to arrange cover, or with someone being denied a day off and being angry with management.

Reducing working hours makes this happen less – so it benefits everyone.

Should you try shorter working hours in your business?

While the results of the Swedish experiment are by no means conclusive, they certainly provide some interesting information about just how much difference those extra two hours can benefit the lives of staff.

It may not be practical to permanently move to a 6 hour week, but giving staff more flexibility to leave early is definitely beneficial – and National 4pm Finish Day is a great place to start!

Find out more about National 4pm Finish Day here.