The six-hour workday experiment and its results
January 25, 2017
By Heather Nezich, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE
After a two-year government study on 6-hour work days that took place in Sweden, the results are in. While employees proved to be happier, employer costs were higher. Is the increase in cost worth it?
The study took place at the Svartedalens retirement home and was funded by the Swedish government. Employees went from 8-hour shifts to 6-hour shifts, but were allowed to maintain their 8-hour salary. Another similar facility participated as a control group by maintaining 8-hour shifts. When compared, 68 nurses who worked 6-hour days took half as much sick time as those in the control group. They were also 2.8 times as likely to take any time off in a two-week period. In addition:
- Employees reported higher energy levels and efficiency
- Employees called in sick 15% less
- Employees reported that their health improved 20%
- Employees were 20% happier
- Employees reported having more energy both at work and home
What about productivity? Due to the increase in energy, the nurses working 6-hour days were able to do 64% more activities with the elders. But although productivity increased, profitability decreased. In order to allow the 80 nurses to work reduced hours, they had to hire 17 additional staff members. Those new hires added $738,000 to payroll, which equates to a 22% increase. They estimate that about half of that expense is offset by the reduction in sick time, time off, and unemployment. While the experiment proved an increase in employee satisfaction and productivity, the added costs for additional staff need to be further analyzed.
Perhaps a 30-hour work week would be more successful in organizations where 24-hour coverage is not necessary. There are several other experiments taking place in Sweden outside of the healthcare industry. Final results are yet to come. Brath, a Stockholm-based startup, has utilized 6-hour work days since its launch in 2012. They argue that the shorter days have made them more successful than they might have been with 8-hour days due to an increased work-life balance. “Our staff gets time to rest and do things that make them happier in life,” says CEO Marie Brath. She also states, “Our work is a lot about problem solving and creativity, and we don’t think that can be done efficiently for more than six hours. So we produce as much as – or maybe even more than – our competitors do in their 8-hour days.”
Although not the world-wide norm, France offers 35-hour work weeks. In the U.S. work weeks average 47 hours. However, several large U.S. companies have begun to experiment with reduced work weeks, such as Amazon. Results remain to be seen. Another U.S. company, SteelHouse began 2017 with an announcement that they will offer one 3-day weekend each month. SteelHouse CEO Mark Douglas said that the next logical step after that will be going to regular 4-day work weeks.
A more common approach in the U.S. is a compressed work week, but with the same amount of hours. For example, working 40 hours across four days. According to a survey by Aon Hewitt 30% of 1,060 employers surveyed offer a compressed work week. 60% of those surveyed offer flex time, which allows employees to set their own arrival and leave times. This approach has been shown to be successful. Research shows that when employees are allowed to have control over their work schedules they report lower levels of stress and burnout and report higher job satisfaction.
While 30-hour work weeks are not likely to become the norm anytime soon in the U.S., it does seem that flexibility in work hours will. Be creative in your work week structure, and don’t be afraid to try new things.