It is time for a 6 hour working day?

Does working a shorter working day on full pay sound like a dream for many of your employees?

For some, the fantasy became a reality when some workers in Sweden were offered the chance to work six hour days whilst earning full-time wages.

When it was first reported that some Swedish public and private sector employers had decided to give this a go, many thought it was doomed to failure, whilst others were very curious to find out what the results would be.

How did the experiment go? 

Nurses at a care home for elderly people in Gothenburg in Sweden had their day shortened from eight hours to six hours for a period of two years.

The results were positive – it was found that absenteeism had reduced, productivity levels had been boosted and workers’ health had improved. This meant that employees were able to provide a higher quality of care to patients.

However, the shortened hours resulted in the council having to hire an extra 17 nurses to fill in the gaps and ensure care was provided to patients. This cost a staggering 12 million krona! With this in mind, it was deemed that the costs outweighed the benefits and it was an unsustainable initiative. As such, it was abandoned and the nurses resumed their original eight hour shifts. It was also decided that the initiative would not be rolled out across the municipality.

Nevertheless there have been success stories. More than a decade ago, Toyota’s service centre in Gothenburg reduced the number of daily hours to six and has reported a lower turnover rate, increased profits and boosted productivity.

What can we take away from the experiment?

There is no sign that a shorter working day is going to become commonplace, but businesses are focusing more and more on high employee engagement, well-being and health and providing flexibility and a good work-life balance. Working on these elements can produce fantastic results such as a reduced number of absences, a low employee turnover rate, excellent productivity, enhanced performance and great staff morale. All of these will help businesses and their bottom line.

You simply need to find what works for you. A six hour working day may not be the answer, but perhaps you can offer some employees a four day week, staggered hours, home working, term time working or annualised hours. To discuss what you could implement in your workplace, seek expert HR support.

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James Tamm

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