Sweden experiments with 6 hour working day

  | James Innes

Some companies in Sweden – including retirement homes, hospitals and car centres- are moving to a 6 hour working day in order to boost productivity and make people happier. Employers who have already made the change said the aim was to get more done in a short space of time, whilst leaving people with enough energy to enjoy their private lives.

In Gothenburg, Sweden’ second largest city, Toyota centres made the switch 13 years ago. Since then the company has reported happier employees, lower staff turnover and an increase in profits.

Meanwhile, Filimundus, an app developer based in Stockholm, made the switch last year.  Staff members are not allowed to use social media at work, meetings are kept to a minimum. And other distractions during the day eliminated. So that staff, whilst in the office, work with more focus and commitment. CEO Linus Felt said “The 8 hour work day is not as effective as one would think…to stay focused on a specific work task for 8 hours is huge challenge. At the same time we are finding it hard to manage our private life outside of work.”

Meanwhile, the Svartedalens retirement home has been funded by the Swedish government to conduct an experiment, whereby nurses work just 6 hours a day, even though they are paid on a day rate of 8 hours. Initial findings suggest that the vast majority of nurses who work six hours a day are actually more productive than those who work eight. They were also significantly happier  “It is too early to draw any conclusions, but nurses working shorter hours are taking less sick leave and report being less stressed” says Bengt Lorensson, the lead consultant on the project.

However, not everybody is convinced. A similar experiment conducted at the Sjöjungfrun retirement home in Umeå actually saw sick leave increase over the year, from 8% to 9.3%, with little measurable increase in productivity.

The experiment is still at an early stage, and a 6-hour working day is by no means the norm yet in Sweden. In large part, such trials find fertile ground in a country where only 1% of all employees work more than 50 hours a week, and where, by law, Swedes are given 25 vacation days a year (with many larger firms typically offering more).

The six-hour work day may be hard to translate to other cultures and countries, where long work hours are more typically. Many workers feel it is expected of them to work long hours – and their employers have come to expect it too.

In the US, for example, a Gallup poll in 2014 found that American adults work, on average, 47 hours a week, whilst a recent TUC report in the UK claims that 4 million employees work a minimum of 48 hours a week.

For the time being then, American and British workers can only cast envious glances at their Swedish counterparts and remember the words of Karl Marx:”The establishment of a normal working day is the result of the struggle of capital and labour”.



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