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Is the 9-5 over? Here are the three trends reinventing work-life balance

Monday to Friday, 9-5 working hours have been universal for some desk-based workers – but are they too rigid for our flexible, post-COVID world? Lucy Clayton, Head of Business Thought Leadership Marketing at O2, reviews three alternatives to consider.

When asked by the UK Government Behavioural Team, most jobseekers (90%) said they’d prefer shorter working weeks or more flexible hours if given the chance – whether through remote working (60%), flexitime (54%), or reduced hours (26%).

And it’s not just jobseekers. O2’s own research observed a significant shift in employee expectations about how they want to work in the future. 61% said that they feel remote working should be the new default, while 85% of employees said they want to work flexible hours.

Now, with COVID-19 transforming how many of us work, employers have the chance to evaluate working hours and the work-life balance to provide these opportunities. And we’re already seeing it happen. Spain recently announced it would be trialling a national four-day working week; a three-year project with €50m in government funding. Meanwhile, PwC’s flexible return to work plan enables employees to choose when and where they work.

But what benefits can new, more accommodating work patterns offer your organisation? And what steps can you take to ensure flexibility – and improve employee wellbeing and productivity?

To answer these questions, my team looked at all the research, analyst commentary, and insights from industry experts we could find. You’ll find the full report in our latest paper – but if you want a quick overview, here are three popular alternatives to the traditional 9-5 that could work for individual organisations depending on their own circumstances.

1. A four-day working week

The most popular model for a shorter work week, the benefits of a four-day week for some businesses are clear. One study found 78% of organisations that introduced the model reported happier staff, 64% reported improved productivity, and 63% reported being able to attract more talent.

Many organisations have already trialled the four-day week to resounding success. Following one month-long trial in 2019, a Microsoft subsidiary saw productivity improve by 40% over the previous year. Meanwhile, when MRL recruitment tried out a four-day week, it reported higher staff retention, a 25% productivity increase and a 40% reduction in short-term absence.

Fast-forward to today, and it could offer benefits beyond your immediate organisation. With COVID-19 having a significant impact on the global economy, a four-day work week could give a much-needed boost to domestic tourism. And in the UK, think tank Autonomy is calling on the Government to consider it as a means of rebalancing the economy by opening up more job opportunities to people with caring commitments.

2. A six-hour working day

Another way some companies have looked at improving the employee experience is by shortening the working day to only six hours – a model that’s been shown to improve productivity, employee happiness and quality of service.

The City of Gothenburg had particular success when it trialled the model, introducing a six-hour day for care home workers. During the trial, care nurses were less stressed, took far fewer sick days, and provided a higher standard of patient care

However, a shorter workday isn’t suited to all types of work. Agent Marketing – a marketing consultancy firm that shortened its hours to 9am to 4pm and mandated a one-hour lunch break – found the model ill-suited to its web development, which was hard to fit into a time-constrained day.

3. Choice of working hours

With the pandemic forcing many of us to rethink where and how we work, a new era of flexible working is already upon us. Surprisingly, one thing has become clear during this time – flexible working is actually effective. And you may have a lot to gain by making this flexibility permanent.

Several leading organisations are already leading the charge. In February of this year, Salesforce declared that “the 9-5 workday is dead”. Instead, it’s introducing a number of flexible working options, in an effort to create a better work-life balance for its c. 49,000 employees.

And for some organisations, like PwC, flexible working has been on the agenda for years. When it introduced the Flexible Talent Network in 2018, which moved away from contracted hours, the scheme attracted 2,000 applicants in the first two weeks – proving just how attractive flexible working is.


Start your journey to a more dynamic workforce

The transition to more flexible, dynamic working hours has long been on the horizon. After all, changes like four-day weeks are not a new idea – and flexitime has been a popular choice for many organisations for years.

However, as the pandemic has accelerated the need for greater flexibility, providing a better work-life balance and employee experiences is now key to attracting the right talent and ensuring happier, more productive employees. And while we’ve outlined three popular trends for improving workplace flexibility, they’re just the beginning.

  • To find out more about the future of work – and how you can better support the freedom, flexibility and fulfilment of your people – dive into our new paper
  • For more insights on the future of work check out our videos, blogs, podcasts and website


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