Brett Sadler

The 35 hour week – myth or panacea?


First things first. The title of this post could have said 38 or 40 hours – whatever someone’s contracted hours are. The point of the post though, is whether the idea of working your ‘core’ or contracted hours only is something to be aspire achieving or not.

We’ve all heard of people working crazy hours. I recently saw a post on LinkedIn joking that ‘oh, so you work a 39 hour week? I also remember my first part time job’. This was (hopefully) meant as a joke, but the thought process behind it isn’t. Some organisations and managers expect a lot from their staff and this often translated to working a lot more hours than contracted to do.


Take the current organisation I work for. As a not-for-profit Housing Association, we have pretty good working arrangements. Full time staff are contracted to work 35 hours a week and over a four week period we can take a further 7 hours flexi time (equivalent to one extra day) off a month. We can also carry over an extra 7 hours per month to the following timesheet. This is a pretty generous arrangement. But, it could be argued that encouraging staff to work to build up sufficient time to build up their flexitime means we are encouraging staff to work over their contracted hours.

Then there is the long standing issue of how many extra hours is acceptable. I have always thought that the more senior the post you are in, the more you are expected to work longer hours (as you get paid to do this). I have also thought that for any staff who are really career focussed, then they want to show that they work really hard, which often translates to working longer hours. But I do find myself questioning this train of thought sometimes. The more we rationalise the number of hours extra we can work (i.e under 5 hours a week is acceptable, over 5 hours isn’t), the more we are not making it as flexible an arrangement as we are aiming for it to be.

So what’s the answer? I do think there is a conversation to be had in every organisation about what constitutes an acceptable number of hours worked. The organisational culture to some extent dictates this.

Many months ago I made the conscious decision not to send out any Emails in the evenings and weekends, if at all possible. The rationale is that if I send an Email to one of my team ‘out of hours’ I am effectively encouraging and enforcing this behaviour in them. I know this isn’t always possible, but I really do try to keep to this rule. The other reason this rule helps is to ensure that staff keep to their work life balance as far as possible. Working all hours might well work for some people (some people even thrive on it) but I’ve been managing staff long enough to know that this doesn’t work for everyone and it is very easy to get burned out due to work and never feel like you are stepping away from it.

So what about your organisation? Have you cracked this issue? Please share your thoughts below!

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2 thoughts on “The 35 hour week – myth or panacea?

  1. Good post Brett – it got my brain whirring! 🙂

    I read a HBR study earlier this week that said managers could not distinguish between people who worked 80+ hours a week and those that just pretended to. Even for those actually doing work it’s the law of diminishing returns.

    In my experience there’s certainly an unspoken rule that the more senior the position, the higher the expectation is for working on outside of your contracted hours. The problem with this – as you’ve rightly spotted – is that it can cause a ripple effect across the organisation. The more senior the role – the bigger the ripples.

    I’m not sure that’s a symptom of long hours, or if we just need to be more careful before triggering off chains of events. It’s deeply satisfying to barrel through your Task List – but I think it’s important to stop and examine what value the Tasks are adding before moving them on. Do they need doing at all? I generally don’t see enough emphasis on this sort of reflective thinking.

    I also think we need to revise our definition of the working day. I’m not sure that the traditional 9 to 5 at the office is the most productive model for every role.
    Being super busy and being super productive are seldom the same thing.

  2. Great post! That point about leadership is bang on. Within the good practice team, we’ve got a lunch time routine on the go where we all take time away from the computer and go for lunch. All this is led by our Manager making it a routine. It’s amazing how little I’ve seen this at other places I’ve worked, with everyone taking the minimum time of 1/2 an hour and eating at their computers.

    In terms of emailing late, I think your approach is bang on Brett. There seems to be a bit of an old-school approach at play sometimes where people email late in the night to show that they’re committed. It’s the role of the Manager to get to grips with this culture and aim for improved staff wellbeing. Easier said than done, but your approach is a great start. Nice work Brett!


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