Are Shorter Work Days Better For Your Health & Productivity?

Image courtesy of Neff Conner

There are 120 hours in a 5-day workweek, and for most working Americans at least a third of that time is spent earning a living. Sure, you’ve got 16-ish hours away from the job each day, but is that enough time to enjoy all your personal, family, community, and social commitments without becoming a harried, frazzled unproductive mess? An ongoing study out of Sweden seems to indicate that a shorter work day may actually result in more productivity.

By knocking off 10 hours of work each week for a year, employees at a Swedish nursing home were able to improve their health, cut back on sick leave, and enhance the care of their charges, The New York Times reports.

Under the experiment, which focused on the future of work in Gothenburg, employees began working six-hour days at the same pay rate as their previous eight-hour days.

One employee says that after just one week he was more energized and residents said their standard of care had improved.

“What’s good is that we’re happy,” one employee tells the Times. “And a happy worker is a better worker.”

While workers reported feeling better about the jobs and their contribution, employers that took part in the experiment found a 30-hour work week sharply reduced absenteeism, improved productivity, enhanced creativity, and reduced turnover.

“We’ve had 40 years of a 40-hour workweek, and now we’re looking at a society with higher sick leave and early retirement,” Daniel Bernmar, leader of the political party running the trial, said. “We want a new discussion in Sweden about how work life should be to maintain a good welfare state for the next 40 years.”

The owner of a start-up in Stockholm, which operates on a six-hour day but didn’t take part in the study, says the shorter days have assisted the small company to double its revenue and profit for the past three years.

“We thought doing a shorter workweek would mean we’d have to hire more, but it hasn’t resulted in that because everyone works more efficiently,” the owner tells the Times. “Since we work fewer hours, we are constantly figuring out ways to do more with our time.”

Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg tried a similar trial last year. The hospital’s orthopedics unit switched 89 nurses and doctors to a six-hour day. But unlike the start-up, it had to hire 15 additional workers.

While the trial initially cost the hospital an additional $123,000 a month, it reduced sick calls, and increased the efficiency of the healthcare workers.

Although the tests have been helpful to both participating companies and employees, the concept hasn’t been greeted with open arms by everyone.

Some opponents of the option contend that the country’s economy would suffer from reduced competitiveness and strained finances, the Times reports.

“We can’t pay people to not work,” Maria Rydén, Gothenburg’s deputy mayor, who is working to put an end to the trial, tells the Times.

In Sweden, an Experiment Turns Shorter Workdays Into Bigger Gains [The New York Times]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.