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Sweden’s 6-Hour Workday Doesn’t Actually Work

Thursday, January 5, 2017 12:47
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by Lale Arikoglu

t turns out the costs of maintaining a shorter workday are just too high.
Sweden, a place generally known for doing things better than the rest of us, was the subject of much envy in 2015 when it was announced that several companies would be introducing six-hour workdays funded by the Swedish government. If the trial was a success, it was proposed that the new workday would be introduced on a mass scale. However, it seems that the plan has already run into trouble, with one two-year pilot-scheme coming to an end due to the high costs that come with implementing shorter work hours—regardless of the benefits.
The experiment, which began in 2015 and took place at a retirement home in Gothenburg on the country’s west coast, opted to keep salaries the same while reducing the work hours of 68 nurses. The results were positive: employees reported feeling healthier and happier, in turn reducing the number of sick days taken and improving the quality of patient care. But as Bloomberg reports, the city has put an end to the scheme after it cost around 12 million kroner ($1.3 million) over two years to hire the extra 17 staff members needed after the hours were cut. “It’s far too expensive to carry out a general shortening of working hours within a reasonable time frame,” local left-wing politician Daniel Bernmar, who oversees the municipality’s elderly care, said of the trial’s end. Once the experiment is officially over, staff members will likely return to the former regular hours.

While several tech companies across Sweden have been experimenting with shorter workdays, too, the trial in Gothenburg has been the most closely watched in the hope that the trend would become nationwide, or even catch on in other European countries. In France, presidential candidate François Fillon has promised to get rid of the country’s current 35-hour work week if elected, and the advent of 2017 saw the introduction of a new law that allows workers the “right to disconnect” from after-hours work emails. And last year in the U.K., a marketing company that already offers its employees perks like yoga and massages, also enforced a six-hour workday for two months, plus mandatory lunch breaks.
Regardless of whether the trial in Sweden has been a success or not, Bernmar told Bloomberg he still believes shorter working hours are the long-term solution for a better quality of life—even if there are now no plans to introduce such a scheme nationally. And surely that’s an attitude we can all strive for: Americans, after all, are notoriously bad at taking time off, even while actually on vacation. Considering the Swedish also do fashion, pop music, and sustainable living so well, and the French enjoy generous vacation time and some of the best wine (among many other things), maybe we should just all pack it in and move to Europe.


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