Time for a six-hour work day? Sweden says yes

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Time for a six-hour work day? Sweden says yes

We see the demands of the average eight-hour work day everywhere: On our roads; in our after-school caring arrangements; and in childcare centres.

We see the detrimental effect on employee wellbeing, with many struggling to juggle competing demands and ultimately wishing away the working week to find some respite on the weekends.

Indeed, we even see such demands on our bodies: sky rocketing stress levels; depression; heart disease; obesity. The desire and energy to participate in physical activity is quickly lost when you can hardly find the time to cook a decent meal.

Of course, not all of it can be blamed on working hours alone. Yet the average 43.2 hours a week a full-time Australian works (that’s 8.6 hours a day, and makes us the ninth hardest working OECD nation) must have some impact. Interestingly, the full-time employed segment working the longest, according to OECD data from 2014, are actually those classified as in ‘Twilight Careers’, aged 63 or more.

And yet during those work days, many employees allow for plenty of breaks and interruptions.

So what if we just condensed the hours? Cut down the lunch break, the coffee breaks, the social media and the long, unnecessary meetings? What if we logged onto Skype for that face-to-face, instead of catching a cab across town?

The solution to being healthier, happier and more productivity may well rest with putting a strict limit on the working day – forcing us to work harder in order to see us work less.

In Sweden, that seems to be the general consensus. A recent pilot program introducing six-hour work days in aged-care homes is proving the case, with nurses who’re retaining the same wages for the shorter days reporting they feel more alert, have more energy and better enjoy family life. 

Now other employers are catching on with businesses across Sweden moving to a standard six-hour working day.

Even technology companies, which have traditionally done everything possible to keep employees in the office, are riding the trend. Stockholm based app developer Filimundus introduced the shorter days last year, with CEO Linus Feldt telling Fast Company that eight-hour work days are just not that effective.

“To stay focused on a specific work task for eight hours is a huge challenge,” he said. “In order to cope, we mix in things and pauses to make the work day more durable. At the same time, we are finding it hard to manage our private life outside of work.

The reduced hours do not mean a 20% cut in productivity. At Filimundus, employees spend less time in the office by cutting distractions such as social media and intentionally keeping meetings short. Feldt believes this makes it easier to retain the stamina to get the work done in shorter hours. Meanwhile, staff are spending more time with their families and exercising more. The result is improved employee happiness and alertness, as well as a reduction in staff conflicts.

So what challenges could the six-hour work day solve in Australia?

The first and most obvious one is in caring responsibilities. Currently, school hours fall a couple of hours short of the standard work day. A fact that must be accommodated for through after-school care arrangements. A full day in a childcare centre is a long time for a small child, especially for those under 18 months, a thought that may potentially keep more women from returning to work sooner.

A six-hour work day would also offer more flexibility in working hours that better suit your own requirements outside of the office. It could see peak hour traffic better distributed throughout the day, less congestion, and more opportunities to work during your most productive hours.

Meanwhile, shorter days could ultimately limit the sedentary lifestyle that’s associated with hurting our health.

The Australia Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study recently found people with “high sedentary behaviour” have an 11% increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.  According to a report in Science Alert, those who work more than 55 hours a week have a 33% greater risk of having a stroke than those working 35 to 40 hours. 

But from an employer’s point of view, the six hour work day could simply mean greater productivity.

Already, part time employees have been found to waste less time at work than their full time colleagues, losing an average 11.1% a day compared to the 14.5% in the full-time working population. The EY and Chief Executive Women report found that employers offering flexible work are benefiting from a significant productivity boost. 

Employers are currently offering everything from free lunches, to gym memberships, gaming rooms and sleeping pods to attain and retain staff. 

Many might be missing the ultimate perk of all: Standard, shorter working days.

This article was originally published on Women’s Agenda.

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Angela Priestley is the publisher and founding editor of Women’s Agenda. She’s an author, journalist and passionate advocate for workplace gender equality and diversity. Her first book is “Women Who Seize the Moment”.

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