Sweden’s experiment with the 6-hour work day

Happier staff.  Increased profits.  Lower turnover rate.  These are just a few of the reported benefits of the six-hour work day, adopted this year by employers across Sweden – from retirement homes to car centers and hospitals.

This approach is not entirely new.  Thirteen years ago, Toyota service centers in the coastal city of Gothenburg cut shifts for their mechanics.  The company reported rising profits and increased staff satisfaction as a result, and the concept has been in place ever since.

Last year, Stockholm-based app developer Filimundus also embraced the six-hour day in the hopes of encouraging employees to work more intensely and efficiently while on the job.

In order to ensure that staff remembers remain on-task, daily distractions are kept to a minimum.  This means occasional meetings and no social media in the office.  Linus Feldt, the company’s CEO, reports that not only have productivity levels remained the same, but the number of staff conflicts has decreased because employees are happier and better-rested.

“The eight-hour work day is not as effective as one would think,” Feldt told Fast Company.  “My impression now [with the six-hour work day] 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 the energy left when leaving the office.”  

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The shorter work day, part of a national fixation on work-life balance, assures that employees will be able to dedicate sufficient time and energy to their private lives – learning new skills, exercising, spending time with their children, or cooking.

Even nurses and doctors at certain hospitals have implemented the six-hour work day, according to Science Alert.  In February, a Svartedalens retirement home in Gothenburg made the switch as part of a two-year study to determine whether the cost of hiring new staff members to make up for the lost hours is worth the improvements to patient care and employee morale.

“It is too early to draw any firm conclusions, but nurses working shorter hours are taking less sick leave and report being less stressed,” said Bengt Lorensson, the lead consultant contracted by Gothenburg City Council to analyze the data.

While these results are promising, the six-hour work day is not yet the norm in Sweden.  Nevertheless, only 1% of employees work over 50 hours a week.  This represents one of the lowest rates in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, where 13% is the average.  Swedes are guaranteed 25 vacation days by law, and many large firms will offer even more.  Parents are also granted a total of 480 days of paid parental leave to divide among themselves.

Canadian-born Ameek Grewal is a 29-year-old Citibank employee who relocated from London to the company’s Nordic headquarters in Stockholm last year.  He says that although the change of pace can be “frustrating” for those accustomed to longer hours and expeditious communication with clients, the Swedish model’s benefits far outweigh its drawbacks.

“Here there is a mutual respect,” he noted.  “I’ll wait until office hours to call or email my customers and at the same time I know I won’t be phoned when I’m on holiday.”

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