Here's What Happened When Sweden Tried To Implement A 6-Hour Workday

Work life shouldn’t be your only life

With much of the world moving towards automation, efficiency, and telecommuting, we hold out hope that these developments could one day result in people spending less time at work doing their job. Even without taking into account recent developments and attitudes, studies have shown that trying to keep focus during an eight-hour workday is a herculean effort that just doesn’t pan out as often as we would hope.

What normally happens is, to undertake a full eight hours of work, a worker needs to implement breaks in the day, which can cause an eight-hour workday to reach ten hours, stifling quality of life and time outside the office. Put succinctly by Linus Feldt, the CEO of Swedish app development firm Filimundus, "To stay focused on a specific work task for eight hours is a huge challenge. . . . In order to cope, we mix in things and pauses to make the workday more endurable. At the same time, we are having it hard to manage our private life outside of work. We want to spend more time with our families, we want to learn new things or exercise more. I wanted to see if there could be a way to mix these things."

On paper, it’s appealing enough to earn even the support of Fox News in this discussion:

But would something this progressive and employee-friendly prove to be sustainable?

Never ones to shy away from a progressive solution to quality of life, Sweden decided to run trials of six-hour work days in select environments, giving workers at a retirement home the same pay as they were earning for eight-hour shifts.

That was two years ago. Now, the data is coming back, allowing us to see what a six-hour workday really does for people and companies, good and bad.

The good news?

Employee quality of life went way up, in and out of the office. Staff satisfaction, quality patient care, and health all climbed. I’m not sure this is a big surprise, considering people who work less tend to be happier, more fulfilled, and more focused when they are working.

The bad news?

It’s expensive for employers. The nursing home in this trial, Svartedalens retirement home, had to pick up 17 more part-time employees to fill the gaps in a 24-hour day left by shorter shifts. Even a local politician and proponent of the initiative, Daniel Bernmar, says that the cost to employers is just too high to see this as a viable change in the near future. He stated, “It’s associated with higher costs, absolutely. It’s far too expensive to carry out a general shortening of working hours within a reasonable time frame.”

That’s probably why you haven’t heard about this concept more often. In fact, Sweden gave it a go previously in the 90s, and the result was the same: great benefits for workers, untenable for employers/companies.

But for firms that aren’t round-the-clock, or are based primarily on output rather than face time or availability? Well, those guys have already moved to the six-hour workday in Sweden. Feldt’s tech firm Filimundus, took it on last year as the company standard. So far, here’s happy with what has come back to the organization. "My impression now is that it is easier to focus more intensely on the work that needs to be done and you have the stamina to do it and still have energy left when leaving the office," he says.

The concept of having people around the office for the sake of availability or corporate culture is fast becoming a relic of a bygone era. Workers are still available outside of sleeping hours and for something like tech, there’s enough individual work to be done that cutting office hours by 25% doesn’t unduly infringe on interaction or meetings. In fact, it might allow workers to be more social and forthright than they would be in a longer day.

Whether or not the concept becomes an industry standard overnight may not matter. It’s possible, or as Feldt thinks, likely, that a candidate would choose a six-hour firm over an eight-hour one if with a proportionate change in pay.

He says:

"I believe that we value time more than money today. I am absolutely sure that more and more people would choose more free time before a high salary. Going from an eight-hour day to six has helped us spread the message that we invest in our staff. That we believe that a happy staff is the absolute top priority for a successful company. If your staff is happy, your company is happy."

So the concept doesn’t need to get adopted across the board to get traction. All it takes is one firm willing to offer this, then noticeably higher returns when it comes to production, value, and retention. Capitalism dictates other companies would forget their objections and follow suit, so stay tuned.

Julian Meehan

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