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Bad news: the six-hour Swedish working day was too expensive

Unfortunately, as a recent trial in Sweden has revealed, the answer is often ‘no’ - for employers at least

Doing the job you love but with a shorter working day of six hours instead of eight is the stuff dreams are made of, but would the reality be as attractive? 

Sweden has gained global recognition for its sensible approach to maintaining a good work-life balance, with great emphasis on keeping this happy equilibrium. As a country, it is known to have one of the shortest working days, allowing employees more time to spend with their families, friends and on interests outside work. With such importance placed on the ability to successfully juggle both career and personal life, the news of Sweden’s intention to trial a six-hour working day seemed the next logical step.

Following this 2015 announcement, a handful of Swedish companies rolled out the scheme. Intending to boost the morale of its employees and increase their levels of productivity, a retirement home was one employer to trial the six-hour working day.

There were some positive consequences. The shorter working day reduced stress levels in staff, meaning they felt happier and healthier, and the amount of sick leave taken decreased. More relaxed employees could perform their jobs to the very best of their abilities, improving the levels of patient care provided.

Conversely, negative consequences of the six-hour working day were seen. The shorter working day forced the retirement home to hire extra staff to cover shortfalls, at an added cost of 12m kronor. This extra expense was enough to prompt a local politician to announce the failure of the scheme, stating a general shortening of working hours to be too expensive to sustain.

Although the idea for a six-hour working day was deemed unsuitable in this case, other Swedish companies had more positive views of the scheme. One business executive in a technology company perceived the trial as beneficial for both workers and employers, suggesting that there are ways to make a shorter working day advantageous for everyone; for example, reducing the length of meetings could help to save valuable time, as could avoiding unnecessary diversions such as internet browsing. Happier, more relaxed staff are more productive – an undeniable benefit for employers.

The trial of a shorter working day in Sweden uncovered some interesting points. A six-hour day could improve employee productivity levels, boost morale and reduce the amount of costly sick leave taken, benefitting employers to some degree; however, the additional expense of hiring staff to cover the two lost hours could certainly be enough to deter most employers from considering a similar scheme. For the moment, at least, it appears that the eight-hour working day is here to stay.

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