The findings from Sweden’s six-hour working day trial show that a shortened working day results in healthier and happier employees. It also leads to a higher quality of welfare services and a more sustainable and equal labour market.
A shorter working day is not just a dream. It actually fits quite nicely as a policy tool to create a more sustainable working life and labour market.
For the past two years the Swedish city of Gothenburg has undertaken a trial of a six-hour working day at a care home for elderly people. The purpose of the trial was to find out how it would impact on health and life quality for assistant nurses, as well as the broader socioeconomic benefits as well as the possibility of creating jobs.
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 staff as happier and more alert. Social activities dramatically increased too, meaning that the staff were putting their heightened energy to good use.
In the wider Swedish society sick leave has increased considerably in the care sector in recent years. Jobs caring for children and elderly people are predominantly carried out by women. It is also an area that doesn’t benefit in the same way as many male-dominated sectors do from automation and technology. Care work is heavy-duty, face-to-face labour, which is tiring for both the mind and body. Little has changed over time for care workers, except that the economic constraints have grown tighter. The six-hour working day project indicates that an improvement in working conditions has a clear impact on the quality of care.
The demands of working life impose heavily on family life, however the experiences of this project show that women with children benefit most from a shorter working day. Creating a better work/life balance giving these women time to rest, enjoy quality time with their children as well as hold down a career is more achievable and sustainable with a shorter working day.
As far as retirement goes, in physically demanding professions such as construction or care, working until you’re 65 represents a greater challenge. Early retirement is not only an economic problem for society but a devastating blow for individuals who risk having to spend their old age in poverty. A flexible working arrangement hours can help with this.
Given the attention in international media that this trial in Gothenburg has received, it is clear that it’s an issue that attracts broad interest. This should be met with a serious debate on the benefits of working less but better and being happier and more productive.
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