An experiment in Gothenburg, Sweden, that reduced the schedules of nurses at an old-age home to six hours a day while maintaining their pay, concluded in January with mixed results, finding that while shorter hours made the nurses happier and healthier while improving the quality of the care they provided, the high cost of hiring new staff to fill in the hours the nurses were no longer working made the six-hour days too expensive to continue indefinitely.
Yet Bengt Lorentzon, one of the researchers involved in the experiment, believes that this conclusion may be shortsighted, and that the long-term positive impact of shorter days on the nurses’ health and productivity might have reduced costs in the long term. Bloomberg’s Rebecca Greenfield takes a look at Lorentzon’s argument:
Specifically, the nurses took fewer sick days than they did when working longer, eight hour days. They also took fewer sick days than nurses in the control group. In fact, they took fewer sick days than nurses across the entire city of Gothenburg. Overall, they took 4.7 percent fewer sick days over the period of the experiment, while nurses in the control group took 62.5 percent more sick days over the same time frame. Nurses who worked fewer hours took less unexpected time off, too. …
In general, the working population of nurses in Sweden are in worse health than the average Swede. The women in the facility have higher body mass indices than the average worker, for example. While the study didn’t run long enough to fully measure health effects of shorter days, the research indicates nurses working only six hours will experience permanent health benefits, resulting in savings.
These findings are interesting, but still don’t address how employers can make up for the performance loss that comes along with reducing hours.
A two-year experiment at an old-age home in Gothenburg, Sweden, which maintained nurses’ pay while reducing their schedules to six hours a day, has concluded with mixed results, and will not be permanently adopted. The Guardian reports that, though the shorter workdays made the nurses feel happier and healthier, reduced their use of sick leave, and improved the quality of the care they gave, the benefits also came at a significantly higher cost. Bloomberg notes that 17 new employees had to be hired on account of the experiment, at a cost of roughly $1.3 million. A proponent of the plan, local politician Daniel Bernmar, acknowledged that it was too expensive to continue, but added that the cost also ended up being only half of what they had expected, and said he is eager to see more research done into the long-term benefits of abbreviated working days.
Even to the extent that a six-hour workday was feasible in Sweden, skeptics had cast doubt on whether it could be replicated in a country like the US, where employees are accustomed to working longer hours, often in exchange for greater rewards. Yet one California business owner made headlines last year with his revelation that he was successfully running his organization on a five-hour workday. In any case, the traditional eight-hour day is being rethought in various ways as the nature of work and employment changes and people’s attitudes toward work-life balance evolve.
While some European employers have been experimenting with a shorter, six-hour workday, the notion seems unlikely to catch on in the US any time soon, even if these experiments prove successful. However, David McCann at CFO profiles one small California business whose CEO claims to be running his organization successfully on an even shorter, five-hour day:
One year ago today, during a year in which Tower Paddle Boards made the Inc. 500 list of the fastest-growing companies in America, it implemented a workday of just five hours. Think that’s a joke? It’s not. The company’s CEO and founder, Stephan Aarstol, states unequivocally that it’s been a productivity booster. He’s even written a book about the policy, “The Five-Hour Workday: Live Differently, Unlock Productivity, and Find Happiness,” a self-published effort scheduled to be released in July. …
The common workday of eight or nine hours “trains the work force to be lazy,” he says. “Time is like a sponge. If you have eight hours to do something, you take eight hours. But if you tell people to get the same amount of work done in five hours, they start working at a faster pace and find creative solutions to stuff.” …
Experiments in Sweden and other European countries have found that organizations can get more productivity out of their employees by prescribing a shorter, more focused workday. If these findings are replicated and the practice becomes more prevalent, Bloomberg’s Rebecca Greenfield wonders whether six-hour workdays could catch on in the US. Her conclusion? Don’t count on it anytime soon:
Even with encouraging results, it’s unlikely that the U.S. will soon shift to shorter days. Americans work around 38.6 hours per week, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. They get, on average, fewer than eight paid vacation days a year; only about three-quarters of workers get any paid time off at all, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. “The Swedish model will not be easily accepted in the U.S. because we are a nation of workaholics,” said Rao. …
In the U.S., companies have sought to show flexibility by adopting a four-day workweek, albeit with the same total amount of hours. In a sort of workplace sleight-of-hand, the prospect of perpetual long weekends keeps people motivated. “It helps them stay more focused,” said Rao.
Frankly, even the four-day workweek seems to me like an ambitious goal for American work culture. Currently, the US workweek stretches to six days for many employees, owing to the additional work they feel compelled to do because of mobile technologies. In this environment, it’s hard to keep employees off their work email on Saturdays and Sundays, much less limit them to four workdays. If you mandated it, you might actually lose more than a day, if you count the extra time as well.
I think the more important productivity enhancer in the US would be to actually enforce the five-day week, softly persuading employees to leave work at work and let weekends be weekends.