Why we have a six-hour workday at Cliniko

One thing we’re passionate about at Cliniko is rethinking traditional work culture policies, and this includes the number of hours our team is expected to spend at the desk each day. Our focus is only on productivity, and for us, a shorter workday is the best way to achieve this.

Aisling Smith·

An illustration of the words 'Less' and 'More' on balance scales

Three o’clock rolls around and you’re staring at your computer screen. You’ve read the same sentence half a dozen times, and you can’t focus, but you’ve already had two coffees today and you know you’ll never sleep tonight if you have another one. You check the clock again and it’s now 3.02pm . . . And there’s still two and half hours to go before you can call it a day.

That’s definitely not the right headspace for productivity! It’s highly unlikely that anything of value is going to get done—you’re more likely to check your email inbox yet again, scroll through the Google news feed, or play a cheeky game of solitaire.

At Cliniko, when we feel our productivity flagging, we’re encouraged to log off—either to take a break and come back refreshed, or even start again the next day. Our founders Joel and Liora actively encourage a work culture that’s focused on productivity (rather than how much time we’ve spent at our desks), and this includes a reduced work week.

Pilot programs from around the world have demonstrated that the four-day work week leads to extremely favourable results, including higher revenue, staff retention, and productivity, as well as reduced absenteeism. From Unilever in Australia and New Zealand, to Microsoft in Japan, many companies have trialled and retained a shortened workweek. And we’ve seen many benefits at Cliniko, where our full-time employment is six hours a day (or 30 hours a week). We chose six hours a day as an instinctive starting point because we felt it allowed the right balance for our employees and our business—and having seen the positive impact on both our team's well-being and our business’s efficiency, we’ve stuck with it ever since.

Quality of work over quantity of hours

The standard working week is generally considered to be 40 hours, usually spread across five days, which equates to eight hours a day of employment. While we now take this format for granted, it was actually spearheaded by Henry Ford in 1922, who decided to close his factories on weekends. This meant a shorter work week for his employees (although admittedly their wages were also reduced accordingly) and by the 1930s, similar policies had been widely adopted by other companies.

But eight hours is nonetheless a significant amount of time to spend at work; it equates to a third of your whole day! And how many of those hours are genuinely productive? Joel says that he rarely felt as though he did 40 hours of good work every week before he founded Cliniko—not through laziness or ill intent—but simply because it’s not the way that human beings are designed to work or concentrate. This is perhaps especially the case in the modern world, with all its technological distractions. Somewhat depressingly, a 2023 article in The Guardian cited 47 seconds as the average human attention span! In light of this, expecting someone to continue being productive across an eight-hour workday does not seem realistic.

At Cliniko, we strongly prioritise the quality of the work that someone produces above monitoring the number of hours that they spend at the desk. On any given day, we think that two excellent, keenly focused, and fully immersed hours (for example) are more valuable than eight half-hearted or absent-minded ones!

As with all our work culture policies, we have a six hour day because we believe it leads to the strongest outcomes for our business. The shortened day isn’t simply a nice gesture to our employees; we have witnessed how our reduced work week allows us to be productive, and ultimately profitable. Six hours a day has been our policy since Cliniko began and, even so, we’ve continued to grow every year that we’ve been in business—this certainly hasn’t been hindered by a shorter workday. We don’t take money from investors and we’re funded entirely by our own profits, so we wouldn’t implement (or maintain) a policy that didn’t make good business sense.

How it works at Cliniko

Our reduced work week at Cliniko means that each person on the team sets their own daily hours. This is great news for the night owls like me—personally, I tend to start work later in the day and I don’t mind working into the evenings. But this varies a lot across the team. Those with kids can set their hours around drop off duties and childcare, and we’ve got the early bird contingent who (for reasons I’ll never understand!) like to be at the desk first thing in the morning. People also have the freedom to arrange their hours to take time off in the middle of the day if they want to get to the gym, catch up with friends, or have errands to run. The reason for not being at work doesn’t need to be justified or explained—it’s expected that the team will work hard when they’re around, but that they should also be able to live their lives.

While a reduced work week is universal across the team at Cliniko, our support crew admittedly have less flexibility with their start and finish times. They tend to work in a more structured way than others in the business (like our developers or our content and marketing team), as we need to provide reliable support coverage for our customers. In this sense, flexible work lends itself to some roles more than others. However, while the support team will work across more fixed time periods, they are still able to move their hours around, take breaks when they need it, and access unlimited annual leave like the rest of the Cliniko team.

30 hours is a guide

We consider 30 hours a week to be mainly an estimate or a guide—it’s an approximate goal, rather than something we rigidly track (and, in that sense, is a number we chose somewhat arbitrarily). When the focus is on the quality of the work that gets produced, the exact hours spent to achieve it become less relevant.

Also, if a workplace is genuinely flexible, there needs to be some wiggle room and scope for life to get in the way. Some weeks, members of the Cliniko team might work more than 30 hours, whereas other weeks it will be less. True flexibility should allow your work hours to fluctuate a bit as life ebbs and flows.

Productive employees should reap the benefits

The traditional work week doesn’t have much benefit for an efficient employee. If you’re able to finish your assigned work in a short space of time, you’re likely to find even more work piled on your plate—so, if anything, your efficiency tends to backfire on you! The business you work for reaps the benefit, but your productivity doesn’t have any meaningful impact for you as an employee.

We think that this is inequitable and likely to drain and demotivate employees in the long term, causing burnout or even attrition (which isn’t good for a business either). By making productivity the goal rather than counting hours worked, Cliniko team members can benefit from their own efficiency. When a task is completed—whether that’s making headway on a new feature or answering all the customer queries in the queue—we don’t muck around filling in the time until the end of the day. Instead, we’ve got the freedom to pack it in, enjoy some extra time for ourselves, and start again the next day.

A shorter work week helps recruit talented people

Of course, this system only works when team members are self-motivated and genuinely want to do good work. This is part of why our hiring process is so crucial. We actively look for talented people who take pride in their work and hold themselves to account—and we’ve found that our flexible working policies tend to attract exactly these kinds of folks. Our team now has 52 employees and only two people have ever chosen to leave the company.

We’ve used our policy of flexible hours as a recruitment incentive since Cliniko first started. Back then, we weren’t able to offer high salaries as a hook to attract good people, but we found that skilful workers would nonetheless apply for jobs with us due to our work culture policies. The theory was simple—to bring in people who could do good work in less time, and then share that benefit with them—and this is still our goal! We aim to hire efficient, trustworthy people, and then give them the freedom to be productive on their own timeline. It also helps with team retention, as nobody wants to go back to a 40-hour work week again after having the extra time off!

Could reduced hours work for your business?

We recognise that this model of doing things might not be possible for everyone. But if you own a business, we’d recommend considering whether a shortened work week is something you could implement.

The six-hour workday has led to both personal and business benefits at Cliniko, and we’re always keen to see more companies and individuals experience the advantages of work culture changes. And, after all, when time is the most valuable resource that we have, giving more of it back to your team is one of the best things you can do for them.

Author information

Aisling is a Melbourne-based writer and all around word nerd. When she isn't writing for Cliniko, she likes circus fitness, playing her cello, and eating dessert.

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