Got a minute? Eight interesting facts about time and work
Before the Industrial Revolution, the working week for most people in Britain was dictated by nature’s cycles and the demands of the task at hand. But, as Professor Emma Griffin discovers in Clocking On, the rise of factories turned time into a commodity. Since then, workers have become increasingly unable to escape the clock.
1. Selling the time was once a job – and not all that long ago
In the nineteenth century, industrialisation and the development of cities made keeping track of time increasingly important for business. But many workers didn’t have precise enough clocks to stay in sync. This led the astronomer John Belville to start selling the time to Londoners in 1836. He would adjust his pocket watch based on the time at Greenwich Royal Observatory and then carry it around the city for subscribers to set their clocks by once a week. The service was so successful that John’s family continued it beyond his death – his daughter Ruth was still selling the time until 1940.
2. Working shorter hours could make us happier and more productive
Employers in Sweden have been trialing the six-hour work day for the simple reason that it appears to make people happier and healthier – and more productive. In one pilot with a group of care workers, initial results after 18 months were promising: staff reported better health, took less time off sick and organised 85% more activities for their patients. But while some businesses have reported increased profits from shorter hours, public sector programmes have attracted criticism for being too costly. Here in the UK, there’s a growing lobby for a four-day work week. Supporters say it could increase staff productivity and morale, reduce stress and save on running costs. A shorter work week could be good for the environment too, using less electricity and lowering emissions caused by commuting.
How you can make time last longer
3. The two-day weekend may have been invented to accommodate a hangover
The idea of a weekend is thought to have begun because nineteenth century factory workers would often skip work on Mondays to recover from the excesses of Sunday, their one day off. To avoid losing too much vital revenue, factory owners agreed an early 2pm finish on Saturdays in exchange for their workers being back, sober and ready to work, on Monday morning.
4. A lot of your working time is wasted due to inefficiency
Research suggests that UK businesses lose two hours of employees’ time each day to inefficient processes and unproductive activities. Among other things, time is lost to reading unnecessary emails, looking for missing files, recreating lost documents, unscheduled interruptions and unnecessary meetings.
5. Meetings take up a quarter of our time
The average UK office worker spends around 25% of their week either in meetings or preparing for them. This adds up to 17,470 hours across a 40-year career, or higher for many managers and directors. Some companies have attempted to remedy this by instituting a meeting-free day each week, and others hold stand-up meetings, or project team ‘scrums’, with strict 15-minute time limits.
6. Most of us don’t take enough time off
How would you like to be able to head off on holiday for as long as you liked and still get paid a full salary? An estimated 9% of companies worldwide now offer unlimited paid leave, choosing to reward staff based on the work they deliver rather than the time they spend doing it. But the average UK employee only uses three-quarters of their annual leave entitlement as it is, so although limitless time off sounds great, you might need some persuading to actually take it.
7. You spend a year of your life travelling to and from work
You might feel you spend too much time at work, but spare a thought for people whose working weeks are extended by more than 10 hours travelling to and from their job. Figures from the 2011 census showed 100 people commuting more than 500 miles from the Orkney Islands to London each week, while 250,000 people travelled to Cornwall from other parts of the country. The average UK commute is 54 minutes, up from 45 minutes in 2003, and it’s estimated that we spent 10,634 hours – about a year of our lives – travelling to and from work.
We often think that time management is a good thing but the reality is we're often not giving ourselves enough time.
8. Most workers would choose job security over flexible hours
We talk about ‘spending’ and ‘saving’ time as if it’s a currency, but the phrase ‘time is money’ has never been truer than in the modern ‘gig’ economy. With companies increasingly paying freelance contractors based on deliveries made or tasks completed instead of time spent working, speed is of the essence if you want to maximise your pay packet. An estimated 1.3 million people are now employed in this way, but while gig-based work offers flexibility and the chance to set your own schedule, it also means a lack of job security and losing key employee rights. A recent survey showed three-quarters of people would prefer traditional employment and only 10% see the gig economy as the future of work.