Long known for its family-centric culture, Sweden is taking things a step further by introducing a six hour work day, with some businesses having already implemented the change. Labor experts say the move comes after extensive reports that a shorter work week is not only better for the health of workers but for overall effective work production rates.
The CEO of Stockholm-based app developer Filimundus, Linus Feldt, says an eight hour work day is not as effective. He says to remain focussed on a specific work task for eight hours was challenging.
"In order to cope, we mix in things and pauses to make the work day more endurable. At the same time, we are having it hard to manage our private life outside of work," says Feldt whose company introduced a six hour work day last year with positive results
"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," he says
In exchange for a shorter work day Feldt says staff are asked to keep meetings to a minimum and stay off social media and other non work distractions.
"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.
Feldt says the thinking behind the six hour work days was that staff would be more motivated and have more energy to get more done despite a shorter time in which to do it. Feldt reports productivity stayed the same and there have been less staff conflicts due to his employees being better rested and happier.
Several Toyota service centres in the Swedish southern city of Gothenburg switched to a six-hour day 13 years ago and report a lower staff turnover rate, happier staff and ease in recruiting new employees.
Martin Brock, the managing director at one of the centers, says "They have a shorter travel time to work, there is more efficient use of the machines and lower capital costs - everyone is happy," adding profits have risen 25 percent.
To test the six hour work day, Gothenburg's Svartedalens retirement home introduced a six hour work day for nurses as a year long experiment to see if the cost of hiring 14 new staff members to cover lost hours is financially worth better employee morale and improvements to patient care. Although still four months away from the experiment’s end, indications are the financial costs to date have been worth it.
The labor experts say that even though impressions of happier, energised staff are not a scientific basis for proving a six hour work day is better than the eight hour day worked by the average American, there is proof the U.S model is not working.
They cite a study published last month in The Lancet that analysed data from 25 health studies involving 600,000 people in Europe, Australia and the U.S. over 8 years. The study found those who work 55 hour per week had a 33 percent greater risk of stroke than those who worked 35-40 hours a week, and a 13 percent better chance of developing coronary heart disease. They say another study showed that working 49-hour weeks was associated with more mental health issues, particularly amongst women.