The 40-hour work week is relic of the past, and some employers in Sweden are looking to the future. Companies as diverse as automobile manufacturers and nursing homes have transitioned to a shorter work day, some of them as far back as a decade ago. Those that have made the change report increased productivity, as well as better work-life balance for their employees.
(Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver/Flickr)
How did we get to a 40-hour week and an eight-hour day? Well, it started as an advancement for workers and humanity, an improvement on working six days a week, 12 or more hours per day.
Rallied for by labor unions and often misattributed to Henry Ford, our idea of what’s “normal” – the five-day, 40-hour work week – hasn’t changed in over 100 years. The question is whether it’s still the best model for productivity. Some companies in Sweden have been making strides, showing that a six-hour workday can be just as effective, if not more so, than the old eight.
To American ears, this sounds crazy. Could you really be more productive in a six-hour day? Maybe. Here’s why:
It’s hard to focus on one thing for eight hours.
No matter if you’re putting widgets in a car engine or trying to come up with the next big advertising slogan, eight hours is a heck of a long time to focus on one task.
As Swedish company Brath’s CEO put it, “We believe nobody can be creative and productive in 8 hours straight.”
Another Swedish CEO, of app developer Filimindus said, “My impression now is that it is easier to focus more intensely on the work that needs to be done and you have the stamina to do it and still have energy left when leaving the office.”
What’s more, most jobs don’t even require eight hours of “work” to be efficient and productive. Some of these Swedish early adopters of the six-hour workday have been doing so for over a decade and recording gains in productivity and profit. With email replacing paper memos, chatting replacing meetings, and collaborative software replacing the old physical assembly line (even in a white-collar office) we’re far more efficient than we were in the 1800s when the eight-hour day was introduced.
A shorter day means getting rid of unnecessary activities (even Facebook).
Seriously now, how much company time do you waste every day taking Facebook breaks? If a six-hour day is implemented, the idea is to cut out the fluff. Get rid of meetings that aren’t necessary, streamline processes, and by all means, get rid of time sucks like social media on the company dime. (I can practically hear the moans from you all reading this.)
Think of it this way: you get two extra hours every day to spend doing what you want, not at work! This could mean time for that workout you’re perennially putting off, or even just time to sit and smell the literal roses at your own house. And yes, yes time to dork around with Candy Crush. Whatever.
It’s basically a variation on flex-time.
Creating flex-time schedules is even more common these days, but instead of just shoving eight hours closer to dawn or dusk, let’s think about the six-hour day as some kind of supercharged day. If you can shift to an action-packed six-hour day with no twiddling of your thumbs and GET ON WITH IT already, why wouldn’t you? This is about paying for the value, not the volume of your time. And really, everyone with the six-hour day should be getting what they pay (and get paid) for.
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