As if we weren’t envious enough of our progressive neighbours in the north, employees in Sweden have been enjoying six-hour working days as part of an experiment investigating physical and emotional wellbeing in the workplace.
Their verdict? Perhaps unsurprisingly, working fewer hours – while still earning the same amount of money – could lead to employees feeling healthier, happier, and more productive.
Employers from nursing homes to start-ups have been involved in trials across Sweden over the last few years. In one of the most famous experiments, 70 nurses at Svartedalens retirement home in Gothenburg switched to a six-hour working day. From February 2015 until January 2017, they enjoyed leaving work early, without seeing a reduction in their pay.
Emilie Telander was one of the assistant nurses at Svartedalens who has now gone back to working eight hours a day. The 26-year-old told the BBC that she had noticed a significant difference in her mood and energy levels.
“I feel that I am more tired than I was before [when I was working a six-hour day],” she said. “During the trial all the staff had more energy. I could see that everybody was happy.”
Another nurse, Lise-Lotte Petterson, spoke to the Guardian while the trial was still ongoing. “I used to be exhausted all the time,” she said. “I would come home from work and pass out on the sofa. But not now. I am much more alert; I have much more energy for my work, and also for family life.”
The nurses’ positive feedback was borne out in the preliminary findings from the experiment. Svartedalens saw a 10% reduction in sick leave among the nurses working six-hour days, with these workers also reporting feeling around 50% healthier and 20% happier.
The care the nurses gave to their patients also improved. They began to spend more time on “social activity” with their patients, such as games or outdoor walks, which can be particularly beneficial for elderly patients with dementia.
Inspired by the experiment at Svartedalens, other Swedish companies also started trialling six-hour working days. Erika Hellstrom, a 34-year-old art director at a start-up in the central Swedish city of Falun, told the BBC: “For me it’s absolutely fantastic. I have more spare time to train or to be outdoors while it is still daylight, or to do work in my garden.”
Her boss, Jimmy Nilsson, said that he viewed shorter working hours as a boon to employee productivity. “It’s difficult to concentrate at work for eight hours, but with six hours you can be more focused and get things done more quickly.”
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However, despite the positive feedback from employees – and employers – it remains to be seen whether six-hour days will be rolled out as a matter of course in Sweden. The Svartedalens trial was expensive, thanks in part to the extra nurses who had to be hired to make up for the lost hours.
“It still remains to be seen whether the economic costs of reduced working hours outweigh the benefits,” Daniel Bernmar, the leader of the Left party group on Gothenburg city council, told the Guardian.
Despite this, he said that “the costs of the trial for the public economy were actually half of what we thought they would be”.
The final report containing the results of the experiment is due out in March 2017.