If there’s one thing most of us have realised over this past year, it’s that things don’t always go to plan. The good news is that when there’s change, there’s almost always something positive and unexpected that can come from it.
Maybe it’s the forced adaptability companies have recently encountered or just a sign of the times, but employers are becoming more flexible in the way they manage their staff. For many companies, flexible working has become the standard to keep the lights on. They are also finding, and agreeing to, new and diverse alternatives to the traditional 9 to 5 working hours as part of the process.
Furthermore, employees are demanding more control over their schedule and the number of hours that they work. Whether it’s to focus on family, health, or a passion project, people are demanding more balance between their work and private lives.
Even if you have never entertained the notion that you could thrive in your career and work fewer hours, almost everyone daydreams about adjusting their lifestyle in some way. Reducing the amount of time you work could be the key to making the change you’ve always wanted.
What are the benefits of reducing working hours?
Reducing working hours creates many advantages, most often highlighted is improved wellbeing which is linked to enhancing productivity.
Wellbeing is defined as the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy, so it’s little surprise to learn that how much you enjoy your job, and the amount of time you spend doing it, directly impacts your overall wellbeing. It’s also important to recognise how closely linked your satisfaction in your private and professional life are. If you feel you are compromising your life to work, you are very unlikely to be happy and content in your job.
A growing number of employers recognise this and are actively looking to promote wellbeing in the workforce. It helps that wellbeing and employee productivity are positively linked in many studies, including this report by the UK Government. The increase in productivity creates the business case for companies to act and put in place wellbeing initiatives that improve the companies performance.
If you are interested in understanding more about wellbeing in the workforce, the CIPD covers the topic extensively here.
Why reduce working hours?
What you will get out of working fewer hours is a very personal topic. We prioritise differently the things we want out of life, with these priorities varying as our circumstances change. The following are the general themes we hear as people look at reducing hours.
Family and self needs
Whether it’s parental care, doctors appointments, or other personal obligations, families and individuals feel the strain from the need to commit to our regular packed working schedules. Problems caused by limited free time reduce with your working hours as you gain more control back over your schedule.
Planning for a career change
For people attempting to change careers, start up a business, or making time to upskill and study, reducing your working hours can be a great ‘way maker’. Often people need to make space in their lives to have the focus to be able to plan and make a change in their career.
Working with an illness or disability
In the case of personal illness or disability, working reduced hours provides the opportunity for some individuals to work. The ability to contribute in the workplace shouldn’t be restricted by the amount of time that someone can work.
Retiring is a huge event in people’s lives and can put a strain on mental wellbeing as they experience uncertainty around the change. A great way to adjust from both the business and the employee’s perspective is to reduce hours slowly and ease into retirement. Phased retirement provides an opportunity to slowly handover the knowledge the worker has whilst letting the individual begin to build their life outside of work overtime.
How can I reduce my working hours?
Reducing working hours is about switching from full-time to part-time working. Some roles suit a straight switch to part-time, mainly where the job can be designed to a smaller size to reflect the change. Others benefit from Job Sharing where two part-time people cover the position full-time, enabling the job to generally continue as it was before.
Switch to part-time
In some circumstances, you might find part-time working the perfect fit for your role. Some positions just suit part-time, mainly if it’s possible to reduce the workload you must perform based on your new reduced hours.
This is often the most significant issue people find switching to part-time as they agree to reduce pay but without redesigning the role to recognise the reduced effort. Getting paid 80% of your full-time salary to perform the same job you did before is not something you should accept lightly, if at all.
It can be tempting to think you can pull off some productivity ninja move to offload some meetings and streamline your workflow, but this is rarely successful. Also not setting the tone that when you are out of the office, you are not available, leads to getting called on days off and taking time when you shouldn’t be working.
Part-time does help many people in the UK though and is a very readily available type of flexible working with over 8 million people classed as working part-time. For many people, changing their role to part-time is precisely the move they need.
Job share a full-time role
A job share is where you share your full-time job with somebody else. So you end up working part-time, but your employer gets to have the role staffed full-time. This means that you can get part-time hours in almost any job and because the function is fully staffed, avoid getting pulled into working matters on days when you should be elsewhere.
In fact, the ability to truly step away on your days off is frequently seen as the top benefit of being in a job share. Knowing your partner is actively working to move your joint role forward on your days out of the office is huge for your mental wellbeing.
Trusting your career to a job share is no small decision though, but there are countless examples of highly successful job share teams in the UK getting promoted and moving jobs, all whilst working part-time.
Finding the right partner is crucial. You need someone who can work at the same level as you, possibly with complementary skills, and with similar career aspirations. Directly evaluating this in someone before you commit to job share may sound complicated but setting the foundation that you take your career seriously is an important first step in establishing the trust you need to perform.
Term time hours
Perfect for parents who have to deal with the challenging problem of managing childcare during school holidays. These types of roles though tend to be in short supply, and are often (understandably) very focused on the education sector.
What impact does reducing my hours have on pay and benefits?
When you reduce the amount you work, your pay and benefits will go down as well on a pro-rata basis.
PRO RATA – relating to a calculation of something such as pay or benefits according to a smaller number of hours worked, a smaller amount of something used, etc. in relation to the hours worked in a full-time job, a larger amount of something used, etc.Cambridge Dictionary Definition
For example, if you move from full-time working five days to part-time working four, your pay and holiday entitlement will go down by 80%. Pensions and other benefits will also reduce but check the terms you have with your company or provider to see what the impact will be.
It’s not all bad though, when you reduce your working hours it’s quite likely you will see a reduction in your costs. Whether that’s rail fares, childcare, or a few extra coffees it all adds up. We have created a calculator to help your calculate these changes here.
How do I make a flexible working request to reduce my hours?
If you’ve decided that reducing your working hours is the right action for you to take, the first step is to understand your companies Flexible Working policy, if it has one. You are entitled to request a reduction in your working hours in the UK under employment law, but many times employers may have more favourable terms in their policy.
To apply under the legislation, you must have worked for the company for 26 weeks and not submitted another request in the last year. Additionally, there is a timeline for responding to the request, which can often make your companies policy faster.
This article covers how to approach your employer step by step, covering things like how to formalise the new terms if your employer agrees. Take the process seriously and make sure you put the best possible request you can forward.
Can an employer ask me to reduce my hours?
Sometimes, your employer may ask you to reduce your hours – even if it’s not something you desire or are considering. An employer can ask you to reduce your hours but only with your permission unless there are specific terms in your contract that enables them to make changes without your permission. So check your contract in the first instance to see if there is any wording that states they can change your terms.
In most cases, an employer is likely attempting to reduce your hours because they need to – to keep the business going through a challenging period. Should you decline the request to change hours, you may risk losing your job through redundancy.
As long as your employer has evidence that they can no longer afford to maintain your contract, they will be within their right to make you redundant. So evaluate the situation, the best thing to do may be to accept the offer. But if you feel you are being treated unfairly you should possibly seek to get advice. Working Families has an excellent article on the topic here and provides the ability to contact them for guidance.
Reducing working hours is a great way to enhance your personal wellbeing and focus on other parts of your life that you choose are a priority. Obviously reducing the hours you work will reduce your pay and benefits but depending on circumstances, this may be what you need to feel more satisfied in your whole life. It also doesn’t have to be permanent, many people adjust their working hours based on a priority or circumstance they have that may only be a focus for a specific period of time.