Public dialogue about flexible working hours and a shorter work week is getting louder. One may well ask: how can people be more productive if they work less? This legitimate question might sound illogical. However, if one can work with more engagement and better focus in shorter sprints, why work for eight hours, five days a week?

Actually, working eight hours a day, five days a week is already a shortened period. During the industrial revolution, work was not limited by daylight hours and 14-16 working hours a day, six days a week were the norm.

At the beginning of the 20th century, workers’ rights were improved and by 1937, the UK’s Factories Act limited daily working hours to nine. Today, almost a century later, an employee’s maximum working week is capped at 48 hours by the EU’s Working Time Directive (1993).

Researchers started ideating on the effectiveness of flexible working hours and shorter business weeks as early as the 1970s. Research and literature suggest that the idea of streamlining working hours and granting workers longer leisure time in exchange for increased performance and a better corporate culture is half a century old.

Has the time come to reduce working hours further? Last summer, Microsoft in Japan – a country with some of the most extended hours in the world ‒ closed offices on every single Friday in August as an experiment, allowing staff to work four days on full pay.  Sales soared by 40 per cent. The firm also limited meetings to 30 minutes, encouraging swift and remote communication.

As a stark contrast to Microsoft’s approach, Chinese Alibaba’s co-founder Jack Ma finds the 996 pattern – working from 9am to 9pm six days a week – a “blessing”.

Working fewer hours

At Konnekt, we work 36 hours a week during the summer months; on Fridays, employees can leave four hours earlier to enjoy the Mediterranean summer and longer weekends. It is not just an afternoon off – essentially it translates to working 10 per cent less time, which is a significant benefit. We have had this in place since we launched in 2007, out of goodwill for any extra hours worked off-summer. Since then, Konnekt has grown considerably from two members to a 40+ strong team.

Recently, we looked into data we collect to see whether working shorter weeks affects our productivity and our quality of service.

This encourages us to experiment further with streamlining our workflow

Market conditions

According to Maltese national employment service Jobsplus, the months where companies recruit most are January, July and October. Computing the average monthly engagements by Konnekt recruiters from 2010 to 2018, we have found our related statistics hike in July and October.

Based on an 80 per cent correlation of engagement data between Jobsplus and Konnekt, and assuming an effect of causation from Jobsplus data, we believe that October is the month with the highest engagement for Konnekt as it is the highest for Malta overall.

In the 2016-2019 period, most of Konnekt’s available positions were just before summer, which further supports our assumption that the number of engagements in Malta affects Konnekt’s placements.

No visible impact on efficiency and quality

When analysing the monthly average placements per recruiter, our data suggests that working fewer hours during the summer does not impact the number of placements, which is a powerful signal that reduced hours do not impair performance.

Another aspect we investigated is the number of new applications.

Although the number of new applications increases during the summer months, the number of candidates our recruiters send to companies does not. This tendency indicates that recruiters still shortlist candidates with the same rigour despite a large number of applications they need to vet in a shorter time frame.

Furthermore, our interview-to-placement ratio has been on the decrease during the summers of the past years. In other words, this means that for each placement made during the summer, our recruiters had to conduct fewer interviews compared to the rest of the respective year.

When we looked at the number of credit notes issued for placements (a sign of low-quality execution) and the satisfaction rating (a measure for feedback from our clients and candidates on our level of service), we have found no statistically-significant difference between the summer months and the rest of the year.

The most important lesson of these findings is that despite the increased workload, our recruiters appear to work smarter. Although they deal with a larger pool of candidates, they conduct fewer interviews and still deliver placements as in other months.

The findings lead us to assume that working fewer hours during the summer months does not have a negative impact on the quality of work or our output.

Considering our data analysis, Parkinson’s law of work expanding to fill the time available for its completion – an adage often used to describe increasing bureaucracy in an organisation – might prove to be true.

At Konnekt we have always adopted an innovative approach towards the workplace and, together with our data, this encourages us to experiment further with streamlining our workflow while also nurturing a healthy corporate environment. Watch this space for an update.

Josef Said is the CEO of recruitment agency Konnekt.

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