And no you are not dreaming, these days exist and you can thank Sweden for it!! Tell your colleagues and your boss, this could be the future!
In Sweden there has been a yearlong experiment where nurses at the Svartedalens retirement home have worked a six hour day on an eight hour salary. It was an experiment that had government backing, aiming to find out whether working fewer hours affects productivity. The conclusion? The nurses took half as much sick time as those in the control group, and were 2.8 times less likely to take any time off at all. Bengt Lorentzon, a researcher on the project, said “if the nurses are at work more of the time, and are more healthy, this means that the continuity at the residence has increased. That means higher quality care”. The nurses were also happier, and had more energy – leading to a 64% increase in activities with elderly residents.
Svartedalens is by no means an isolated example. In Sweden’s private sector, other companies such as Toyota service centres are following suit. In the UK, a marketing agency is trialling a staggered schedule so that workers can have reduced hours while still maintaining cover.
The Swedish study isn’t the first that made the connection between happier, more rested and motivated employees and better productivity. In 2014 a paper from Stanford University showed that there was a “non linear” link between the hours worked and output. This means that there isn’t a straight line showing that as people work more hours they get more done. Instead they showed that after around 50 hours in a week, results start to slide – and if you go much beyond this people felt overworked and started to make mistakes.
It is going to be difficult to convince companies of the benefit of hiring extra employees, and encouraging current staff to work fewer hours. Financial pressures on companies mean that, without conclusive evidence in their industry, managers will find it hard to justify the extra expense. Even though a 6 hour day may be a long way off, there are other trends that are really making a difference. As of June 2014 all employees have the right to request flexible working after 6 months of employment, and the good news is that the culture in many work places is shifting. Flexible working gives workers some control over their work/life balance, and has made a massive difference to staff morale. Knowing you can commute at a quieter time, or work from home if a child is sick, or leave an hour early to catch a flight makes a massive difference to employee satisfaction, and the evidence shows that the workforce is more productive and healthier as a result. Big companies such as Microsoft and Johnson and Johnson offer flexible working, and are really seeing the difference. In Johnson and Johnson, flexible transition back to work has resulted in 90% of women returning to work after having children. This benefits the company hugely, as well as the employees.
The culture in the UK has, for a long time, celebrated those who are first in the office and the last to leave. This has lead to an almost competitive atmosphere of who can work the most hours, however, things are beginning to change. It is finally being shown that those working the most hours aren’t always the most productive people. Giving employees some control over their hours has provided real benefits for both the companies and their employees. Workers able to work flexibly enjoy lower levels of stress, greater job satisfaction, and greater overall happiness. What’s not to love?!