The virtues of stamping out long-hours cultures in UK companies have been extolled in an article at the BBC News site – which points out that, just because some workers put in 90- or 100-hour weeks, it doesn’t mean that they are going to be any more productive than those who work between 35 and 40.

Indeed, the piece highlights two UK firms that are already changing things up and trying out new ideas, to give their employees more of an edge in the energy and focus departments.

London-based firm Normally Design only opens its doors four days per week, but pays its staff as if they are working for five. And the slimmed-down week doesn’t mean that the time in each working day has stretched out to compensate – the firm’s days are still only eight hours long.

A staffer tells the BBC that there is a “social encouragement” at the company to use the fifth day for yourself, rather than work – and that no rewards are on offer for those who yield to temptation and carry out work-related activities on the spare day they should be reserving for their own purposes.

Glasgow-based firm Pursuit Marketing operates a similar system, which has led to high levels of staff satisfaction. Its operations director says: “The culture in the workplace drives better results, better performance [and] a happier workforce. So, our retention rates are really high. We can attract the best talent. When our staff are in the office, they’re far more productive. They’re focused on what they need to do. And they want to enjoy that three-day weekend every weekend and not be worried about work.”

So, the big question is – what kind of practical measures can leaders take to transition their firms out of the five-day-week rut and implement more innovative frameworks for working hours?

The Institute of Leadership & Management's CEO Phil James says: “In the first instance, senior teams must exemplify the model of behaviour they want to see. So, if they want their people to work for eight hours a day, four days per week, then they too must work for eight hours a day, four days per week. That won’t work if senior figures set out with the intention of improving their people’s work-life balance, draw up bold plans for reimagining the pattern of the working week… and then end up working 60-hour weeks. That’s pretty much the working definition of mixed messaging.”

James explains: “By and large, managers who have a particular style in which they themselves feel most productive will decant that style across their organisations. If you, as a manager, think that long hours hold the key to achieving your objectives, then it’s understandable why you would expect similar behaviour from those who are working for you – even if this may not suit your workforce as a whole. So, in those sorts of cases, making the transition away from a long-hours culture would be a real challenge.”

He adds: “Evidence plays a crucial role here. For any organisation that’s thinking of trying something quite radical, be cautious and implement a test period. Say, ‘We’re going to do this for a set number of months, and these are the benchmarks we’re going to use in order to determine whether or not it’s been a success.’ Choose the measurements and length of trial period that best suit your business model. Then rigorously collate and analyse the data, so you have a firm evidence base that will inform your subsequent decisions on the matter.”

For further thoughts on the healthy workplace, check out these learning resources from the Institute