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January 2017

The Six-Hour Workday. Would it work?

The Six-Hour Workday. Would it work?

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How many times have you sat at your desk, watching the clock count down those last few hours until the end of the day? What about when you feel that you have done an hour’s worth of work only to realise 15 minutes have passed by? We have all felt at some point that sense of time dragging its heels. It can affect us all in different ways. The 9 to 5 is so ingrained in us it is hard to imagine any other way of working.

Yet, with ‘productivity’ and ‘work-life balance’ becoming ever prominent buzzwords in today’s world, Sweden dared to dream. The Swedish government decided to trial a six hour work day on eight-hour pay, for a year. A care home in Gothenburg has been the centre for this experiment. It saw nurses and care staff work for only 6 hours a day, whilst still receiving a full 8-hour day pay packet. This was to see whether the shorter hours would lead to a more productive work environment. As well as happier, healthier staff with a better work-life balance. Well the results are in, and the answer, in short, is: Yes. It does produce a productive work environment and workers are less likely to call in sick and they are happier in their jobs and lives.

The trail has taken place over the past two years and the findings released last week paint an interesting picture.

The trial results showed that a six-hour working day lowered sick leave by 10%. Also, the perceived health of the care workers increased considerably in relation to stress and alertness. This was especially apparent in child-caring age groups. Having longer to recuperate and spend time with family is evidently an important factor in creating a sustainable work-life balance.

Residents in the care home also said they were getting better care and more time with the nurses. In interviews, they described the staff as happier and more alert. Social activities dramatically increased too, meaning that the staff were putting their heightened energy to good use.[1] 

There is, as always, a caveat. With the workers paid a full wage packet there are increased costs involved for businesses. Although this experiment was funded in part by the Swedish government, it had to hire 17 extra nurses and care staff to help cope with the workload. That is 17 extra wage packets the business would have had to find.  With a happier, healthier, more productive workforce would the benefits outweigh the costs? Well, some businesses seem to think so, and they’re right on our doorstep.

Last year Agent Marketing, a Liverpool based company, decided they would trial the idea for 2 months. Turns out, after a brief adjustment period, they loved it. They found more time to spend with their families and on their hobbies. Although two months is a short trial period, the employees felt the benefits. The issues that were raised focused on time intensive tasks within the business that couldn’t fit into the new model. Even by their own admission, web developer Rick Blundell stated “I feel that such a rigid working model would be difficult to adopt. What I’d like to see is something more flexible that can adapt to both our needs and the needs of our clients. We’re going to sit down at the end of the trial and work out something that’s good for everybody.”[2]  

Maybe a more flexible version of the 30 hour work week model is the way forward? It seems that there are significant well-being and productivity benefits to the idea. Maybe overcoming this shift in our cultural attitudes to work could lead to not only better quality work but more employment (as more people will be needed to take on shifts)? Many in Britain remain sceptical whilst the French are seriously looking into the idea as French Conservative Presidential Candidate; François Fillon vowed to scrap the 35 hour work week.

What are your thoughts? Do you think that Britain should go over to a 6 hour work day? Let us know.

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