The 6-Hour Working Day in Sweden: Are We Onto Something Great?
In September 2015, the world was taken by surprise with Sweden's experiment with the six-hour working day. According to the results of the experiment, the workers were more productive if working hours were shorter.
The 6 hour working day experiment was conducted through the medical staff in a nursing home. The purpose was to see whether or not the quality of work, efficiency, and motivation of the employees would increase if they worked two hours less. Those two hours made a drastic difference. Lise-Lotte Pettersson, an assistant nurse, summed up her impressions in a clear statement: "I used to be exhausted all the time, I would come from work and pass out on the sofa. But not now. I am much more alert: I have much more energy for my work, and also for family life."
Only one year after that experiment, we're already seeing employers in Sweden reducing the maximum working hours per day. The initial results show that workers are doing the same job as before, since they are staying off social media and other distractions. They have more energy and time for themselves, so they feel happier and more successful.
Is this an example that all countries should follow?
The Good Sides: Advantages of the 6-Hour Working Day
- An eight-hour working day is exhausting. The workers need at least one hour rest after they get home from work, so they are faced with only few hours of free time before going to bed. When they have a home to maintain, that free time is spent on chores. As a result, many people are frustrated and unhappy. Fewer working hours lead to a logical conclusion: the workers have enough energy to pursue their private lives after work.
- The longer hours someone spends at work, the less productive they are. When the working hours are reduced, people have more energy to do their jobs, so they are more productive.
- Responsibilities outside of work, such as taking care sick children or relatives, would be easier if the time spent at the office was shorter.
- When you work six hours a day, you have enough time to contribute towards the organization's growth, but you also have time for a hobby or relaxation.
- When workers spend less time at work, they are happier. Happier employees create a more enjoyable working environment, which an organization could only benefit from.
The Other Side of the Coin
- For many professions (such as a surgeon, barrister, or any other occupation associated with night shifts), a six-hour working day is impossible.
- If an organization introduces this policy, it doesn't mean the workers would spend those 6 hours extremely productively. They would still need to take breaks and they would get caught up in distractions. There is always a risk that they would do less work in a shorter working day.
- The Swedish experiment was very expensive. The hospitals had to hire additional staff to cover the needs of their clients. A hospital in Gothenburg spent around $123,000 per month for that purpose.
Forecast: Will All Countries Follow the Example?
When workers work fewer hours, it doesn't mean they work less. In Gothenburg's Toyota service center, the 6-hour working day is not a trend; it's a policy the company implemented 13 years ago, without reducing the salary of its workers. With the shorter working day, the employees get fewer, shorter breaks, and they are doing much better work than before. According to Martin Banck, the managing director, the reduced working hour resulted with more efficient use of the machines and lower capital costs.
This policy won't work everywhere, but it definitely has great advantages worthy of consideration. Maybe it won't be applicable to all industry and it will be an expensive undertaking, but the results are compelling. All that's left for us to do is to inspire change in the political and organizational will in our own countries. If they follow this example, maybe we'll all be more motivated to do our jobs.