Work Less, Do More: Is a Shorter Work Day the Key to Productivity?

It may seem like a paradox, but there’s good evidence to suggest that in order to get more work done, you actually need to work less. How many times have you shamelessly procrastinated on a project for weeks, only to rapidly complete it a few hours before the deadline? Exactly.

Recently Mental Floss reported on a working paper from the US National Bureau of Economic Research which found that “the longer people spent at work on a regular basis, the more of that time they spent goofing off.”

The potential for a shorter, more productive work week is currently being tested by some Swedish companies. In an effort to investigate the personal and business benefits of working less, some Swedish companies in and around the city of Gothenburg have introduced a 6-hour work day. Tests like this are perhaps only possible from a country like Sweden that is already known for its excellent working conditions and supportive welfare state.

The Svartedalens nursing home in Gothenburg was one such company to implement this policy. The New York Times reported that the “experiment at Svartedalens goes further by mandating a 30-hour week. An audit published in mid-April concluded that the program in its first year had sharply reduced absenteeism, and improved productivity and worker health.”

But despite the positive results that have been seen in the nursing home and other companies testing the policy, many people are sceptical. Some local politicians have voiced concerns about a potential drop in productivity, and high costs to the taxpayer. While it’s true that the programme is expensive – the trial is costing about 8m Swedish krona (€860,774) a year – none of the companies taking part have reported any productivity problems. In fact, quite the opposite.

Speaking to the Guardian, Martin Banck, managing director at a Toyota services centre said, “Staff feel better, there is low turnover and it is easier to recruit new people. They have a shorter travel time to work, there is more efficient use of the machines and lower capital costs – everyone is happy”, adding that profits had actually risen by 25%.

Every company surveyed reported more efficient work processes, more creativity from employees, and happier staff with a lower turnover. Perhaps in the near future, we might hear about ‘the Swedish model’, not only in reference to state welfare, but also in conversation about working norms.

After all, the 8-hour day was initially devised for factory workers, and may no longer be fit for purpose in a modern office setting. As modern companies struggle to stay relevant to new hires and fight to retain talented staff, maybe this cultural perk that benefits both employee and employer could make all the difference!

Carrie M. King

Carrie M. King

Carrie M. King is the Editor of the Journal by Jobspotting. Hailing originally from smack-bang in the middle of Ireland, she moved to Berlin in 2014 to join the gang at Jobspotting. Carrie previously worked in journalism and literature. If you want to share thoughts or ideas, get in touch: carrie@jobspotting.com