The world loves Swedish massage, Swedish meatballs and yes, even IKEA. And we may love the next big thing coming out of Sweden even more – the six-hour work day.
Despite research telling us it’s a really bad idea, too many of us end up working 50+ hours a week, rationalizing that we’ll get more done and reap the benefits later. Unfortunately, according to a study published last month involving 600,000 people, those of us who clock a 55-hour week will have a 33 percent greater risk of having a stroke than those who maintain a 35- to 40-hour week. And results show a 13 percent increased risk of developing coronary heart disease, while a separate study found that working 49-hour weeks was associated with lower mental health, particularly in women.
With this in mind, Sweden is moving towards a standard six-hour work day. Businesses across the country have already begun to implement the change, and a retirement home has embarked on a year-long experiment to compare the costs and benefits of a shorter working day.
Linus Feldt, CEO of Stockholm-based app developer Filimundus, supports the change. He says, “I think the eight-hour work day is not as effective as one would think. To stay focused on a specific work task for eight hours is a huge challenge. 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.”
Filimundus switched to a six-hour day last year, and Feldt says their staff hasn’t looked back. “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 said.
As a sort of tradeoff for the significant cut in working hours, Feldt says staff are asked to stay off social media and other distractions while at work, and meetings are kept to a minimum. “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 reports.
It’s believed that when the working day is condensed, staff will be more motivated and have more energy to get more done in a shorter period of time. Feldt reports that not only has productivity stayed the same but there are fewer staff conflicts because people are happier and better rested.
Several Toyota service centers in Gothenburg, have switched to a six-hour day 13 years ago and have reported happier staff, a lower turnover rate, and ease in enticing new employees to come on board. “They have a shorter travel time to work, there is more efficient use of the machines and lower capital costs – everyone is happy,” the managing director Martin Banck says, adding that profits have risen by 25 percent.