How ‘Swede’ It Is To Go Home Early: Swedish Companies Show Shorter Work Days Are Better

By Kamakshi Dadhwal

A number of Swedish companies based in Stockholm are holding multiple trials to measure the effectiveness of short six-hour working days, five days a week. The goal of this overarching experiment is to see if working 30 hours a week–instead of the standard 40 hours in most western countries and 54 hours in most Asian countries–will increase employee productivity and profits. In addition, the Swedish government wants to know if implementing such a system nationwide would increase the quality of life among its citizens, according to BBC. It seems that there is finally a business idea that fosters other aspects of human life, while retaining the economic importance of human resource.

Companies taking part in this experiment have all chosen a specific timeline to have their employees work a single six-hour shift in every twenty-four hours. The shortest of these trials began in September this year and is going to last for nine-months on all employees at a digital productions company, Background AB. The most extensive one began in February 2015 and is going to continue for two years on nurses at an elderly care home in west Sweden, reported BBC. The owners of these companies have all volunteered to try this concept in hopes that it will cultivate workers who are happier and thus concentrate better on their jobs.

In the past nine months, since some of these experiments began, many companies have already gathered reports from their respective employees. Although an increase in employee productivity is only going to be determined at the end of all the studies, it comes as no surprise that every single report has observed an increase in employee subjective well-being. It is rather obvious why workers are happier. They are less stressed over work and have more time to spend at home with their families or doing other recreational activities that they love.

Moreover, the standard work timings for these trials are from 8:30am to 3:30pm, with an hour of break time between two three-hour shifts. This means that much of the late afternoon and evening are available to workers for unrestricted self-development. Imagine your week designed to end school at 3:30pm each day. Wouldn’t you have enough time to catch up on your favorite TV shows, while having enough time to be with your friends and go out more often? It is plain to see that anyone with that much time in the day, in addition to a free weekend, is going to enhance their quality of life. Interpersonal relationships won’t have to suffer for the sake of one’s professional engagements. The individual would, as a result, act more responsibly when professionally engaged.

Additionally, the concept of six-hour working days has been continuously experimented with in Sweden on various small and medium scale business projects. A leading example of its success is Toyota’s substantial increase in profits since it switched to six-hour work days, a decade ago. Another example is the sixteen-year trial that was held in the mining town of Kiruna, between late 1990s and early 2000s. It produced positive results according to its citizens, but the raw data to support this result was lost when political strife hit Sweden in the early 2000s. Although the Kiruna experiment could not be used to change policies, it left behind the idea of six-hour working days that Sweden is now trying to comprehensively measure the benefits of, in order to implement it.

It seems as if the Swedish way is rather perfect in every sense. Salaries have remained unchanged in all of the participating companies and since the main component of productivity is witnessing a steady increase, its imaginable that the results of this study are going to increase overall profits and productivity. Considering the results of past trials as well as the difference two more hours of family or self time can make in anyone’s day, it wouldn’t be surprising if this experiment led to a change in Sweden’s official work hours.

It would also make Sweden a role model for other governments like the US to aspire to create a work-life balance for their citizens. It is a known fact that Americans work more than the citizens of all other industrialized nations, according to OECD statistics. The average American’s stress is 46% related to workload, 6% because of lack of job security and 20% due to juggling work with their personal lives, according to the American Institute of Stress. The bottomline is that 72% of any American’s stress is caused by work-related issues. It is no wonder that stress amongst the working individuals in the US is one of the top concerns for businesses. Therefore, it seems rather obvious that the US could use the Swedish way, or at least experiment with it, to encourage a well rounded personal life amongst workers. Taking into account its success rate in Sweden, it might just increase the employee productivity of the US, as well.

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