Trial confirms working fewer hours reduces staff stress and improves sleep

  • Date

    Fri 4 Oct 19

workers in office

Staff working the same hours as a four-day week feel less stressed, have more energy and sleep better, according to a new study.

Century Office, a leading office furniture designer and supplier based in Colchester, teamed up with the University of Essex to measure the impacts of reducing staff working hours by 20% on wellbeing, as well as productivity and service levels. The results highlighted some pros and cons to adopting this modern working practice.

In the trial, Century Office reduced the working hours of all staff by 20%. Some staff opted to work reduced hours over five days, whilst others opted to just work four full days. During the experiment Century Office evaluated the effect of reduced working hours on the productivity output of staff as well as their engagement and wellbeing at work and home. The trial was also an opportunity to identify and make recommendations for working hours at the company in the future.

Researchers at the University’s School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences, who evaluated the trial’s findings found there were some tangible benefits for the company.

Staff reported feelings of stress decreased by 13%, with 11% of staff saying they could noticeably feel a positive difference in their energy levels and 10% feeling more in control of their work responsibilities.

However, the biggest impact on employees’ wellbeing was on sleep patterns - with 72% of staff reported sleeping between 7-8 hours a night during the trial, which was more than they usually did. 54% of staff were able to take advantage of a shorter commute as a result of avoiding the traditional rush-hour.

Overall, employees reported a greater work-life balance. Employees spent more time in activities that helped them balance their work and personal lives.

One member of staff reported such an increase in energy that they began working out regularly in the gym and had lost over a stone in weight during the trial period. Another mentioned they felt more able to enjoy quality time with their children, and another with their partner.

However, the trial was not without its challenges. Although the company did not report losing productivity, the reduced hours and different staff working patterns meant there were some continuity issues with customer enquiries. Directors also saw an increase in their workloads as they had to cover for others who had chosen to work shorter days

As a result of the trial and the feedback from the employees, Century Office made immediate changes to its opening hours to enable staff to make their morning and evening commute outside of normal rush-hour periods.

Dr Valerie Gladwell, Senior Lecturer at the School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences, added: “This was a very thought-provoking small trial and would be really interesting to upscale it to see how it works in different types of businesses. We are also looking forward to see how Century Office take this forward.”

Sarah Bays, Director of Century Office, said: “We need to undertake some further evaluation and consultation before we can decide whether to adopt a permanent reduction in working hours, but having implemented the changes to our opening hours has already made a huge difference to the entire team as we are all now travelling in and out of the Business Park outside of the very busy peak times. For some of our team this has made as much as an hour difference to the time they arrive home each evening, and at no cost or detrimental impact to the business whatsoever.  The trial has been a very valuable experiment and we are grateful to our team and the University for their input.”