Enabling Environments

How early years practitioners can reduce workload by rethinking how they work

  • How early years practitioners can reduce workload by rethinking how they work

Time for a change? Make your working week count with this advice from James Hempsall…

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about reducing hours at work. Typically, the talk is about working four days instead of five days a week, all for the same pay.

Sounds tempting doesn’t it? The problem is it doesn’t really work for us in early years. We’re a key service; we cannot simply decide to reduce our working hours, because people rely on us to be there.

Still, the idea of working differently always interests me.

It got me thinking about the hours we spend working, getting ready for work, travelling to work, thinking about work, and talking about it, outside our contracted hours. It made me wonder what changes can help us work more closely to the hours we’re paid for.

I meet a lot of people who are contracted for around 37 hours each week, yet they work many more. This usually happens by arriving early, missing breaks, doing extra tasks (like work shopping or laundry), staying late, bringing work home, or working weekends.

It’s a familiar story – and a life I’ve lived myself. Some professions are expected to do it without complaint, and we’re no exception in early years. When something needs doing and we’re the only ones to do it, there’s little or no choice. We do it because we’re committed and we care.

Count the hours

There’s a total of 168 hours for us to spend each week. We should be aiming for eight hours sleep a night, which comes to 56 hours and leaves us with 112 awake.

We should expect a weekend to rest and spend time with family and friends and that uses up another 32. And so to live and to work in the week we only have around 80 hours left.

If we work full-time, then that’s almost half our time. It starts to feel really important we use the rest carefully.

And here’s why. It’s so easy to spend our free time doing work-related things on top of the paid time, and that extra time we might already be spending on work.

I’m thinking about things like travel time. How much is that for you? ACAS reported the 2011 census found the average commute was 54 minutes – that’s a staggering nine hours a week.

But I wonder about the hidden time we spend thinking or talking about work when we should be living instead.

And the time we spend preparing for work too: getting work clothes ready, preparing our personal presentation, organising our lunches, and being physically and mentally healthy.

It’s starting to feel like we spend up to double our working time on work-related activities.

So rethinking work hours shouldn’t be just about a four-day week; it should be about ensuring we work the hours we need to, valuing our time differently, and perhaps prioritising a healthy balance. Thank goodness for holidays, I say – as long as we switch off from work, of course.


Train online

Promoting PSED
This five-hour Level 3 course has been designed to help you help children become self-confident, make strong relationships and manage their feelings. The course’s topics include the key stages of PSED according to age group, the significance of brain development on social and emotional development, key theories on PSED, and planning and providing opportunities to promote PSED. Find out more here.

Effective induction, supervision and appraisal
Suitable for nursery managers and supervisors, and for those childminders with assistants, this five-hour course from PACEY supports you to promote the welfare, interests and development of the children in your setting while also ensuring your staff remain competent and engaged in their own professional development. Find out more here.


James Hempsall OBE is director of Hempsall’s training, research and consultancy. Visit hempsalls.com or follow on Twitter at @hempsalls.

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