A blog exploring Sweden’s plans for a six-hour working day and its effects on collaborative work.
What is Sweden known for? Extreme weather, healthy people, international diplomacy, and ABBA. Certainly not being lazy or workshy. Yet thousands of employers in the Nordic nation are implementing a working day of just six hours, and it’s causing a storm of controversy.
It’s hardly the One Minute Manager. Or the Four Hour Work Week. But for many people, a stint of just six hours would feel like a part-time job – or an impossible dream. So what benefits can a shorter workday bring?
We may find that with a few tech choices, a six-hour day may well make sense in today’s connected, always-on, over-wired economy – by letting people be more productive, not less.
Low-level stress and the modern workplace
We’ve all heard of the fight-or-flight response. And while the modern workplace may not literally need a fight or flight response today’s fast-paced, always-on work environment creates something almost as bad: persistent low-level stress. Never-ending pressure that eats away at our well being – not in occasional bursts, but steadily over time.
And an unhealthy worker is an unproductive worker. Let’s say your crowded commute causes you all-day low-level stress that cuts your productivity by 10%. You’ve only just arrived at work, and already an hour of the day is gone.
More focus, less chat about last night’s GoT
Perhaps the six-hour workday isn’t about timing, but philosophy. Knowing the office doors will be locked mid-afternoon focusses people on what’s got to be done. It means less banter and fewer coffee breaks – but the same amount of work emerges from a shorter day, because people are more focused.
One UK company implemented a six-hour working day and found it led to meetings of just 8 minutes!
So in addition to reducing stress, increasing focus is a worthwhile goal. Observe how much of each day people spend on “busywork” simply because they don’t have a sense they’ve got to stop. You may find only a few hours a day are genuinely productive.
Happiness for business success
Work/life balance is a big thing for today’s HR professionals; you already know a happy workplace is a more productive one. People talk, laugh, share experiences. And that’s the basis of great communication and collaboration.
What’s the happiness payback? One study suggests happy workers are 12% more productive.
Shorter hours can deepen the hiring pool
There’s a possible side benefit too. A huge number of experienced workers – seniors, parents, the differently abled – would love to work if it fit their situations better. And it’s no longer true that the Boomers and Gen X are uncomfortable with computers; mobile and collaborative technologies can keep them on your payroll longer and more flexibly, retaining their skills for years to come.
Flexible and remote working make a six-hour day sing
And there’s the key. Maybe it’s not about shorter working, but more flexible working.
Imagine snatching back those two hours on the train each day and working from home, connected to your colleagues by video and voice. Or shifting the workday to be more in tune with your personal body clock, logging on at sunrise and finishing up by 2pm.
It’s something to consider if you see signs of stress among your staff. Why not try it for a two-month trial, and tell us about your experiences?
- Long workdays lead to damaging persistent low-level stress
- A shorter workday doesn’t have to mean a less productive one
- Communication and collaboration technologies can let you offer a shorter workday