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The HR Digest - - Content Features -

Can a coun­try like the U.S. af­ford to have shorter work­days?

In 2016, the Swedish city of Gothen­burg be­gan tri­als for a corn-flake cap­i­tal­ism ex­per­i­ment. The gov­ern­ment coali­tion pro­posed a year-long trial that would di­vide mu­nic­i­pal work­ers into a test and con­trol group at the same pay rate: with the test group work­ing six-hour days, and the con­trol group work­ing eight-hour days. The six-hour work­ing day is pro­moted not only by Vän­ster (Left­ist Party), but also a grow­ing body of aca­demics, who sup­port this tran­si­tion based on re­search. An au­dit pub­lished in midApril con­cluded that the pro­gram in its first year

has sharply re­duced ab­sen­teeism, and greatly im­proved pro­duc­tiv­ity and worker health. While eight-hour work day is the norm, not all of those are spent ac­tu­ally work­ing. The av­er­age time spent on pri­vate ac­tiv­i­ties, such as per­sonal phone calls, chat­ting with col­leagues, check­ing so­cial me­dia and emails, and on­line shop­ping, take up an es­ti­mated 1.5 to 3 hours per day. Ac­cord­ing to Ca­reer­builder (2016) most em­ploy­ees spend at least an hour or more each work day on per­sonal stuff. So tech­ni­cally, work­ers spend only 6-hours each work­ing on what they are ac­tu­ally get­ting paid to take care of. Now, this is an in­ter­est­ing trade-off, mak­ing a 35-hour work week, es­pe­cially for mil­len­ni­als, who value work-life bal­ance a lot more than pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions.

In a 2012 ar­ti­cle for For­eign Pol­icy, Charles Kenny ex­plored the com­pli­cated con­nec­tions be­tween out­put and work hours:

“The bot­tom line is that pro­duc­tiv­ity -- driven by tech­nol­ogy and well-func­tion­ing mar­kets -- drives wealth far more than hours worked. And very few jobs in de­vel­oped economies nowa­days are clas­sic as­sem­bly-line po­si­tions, where work­ing 20 per­cent longer will me­chan­i­cally pro­duce 20 per­cent more wid­gets. Psy­chol­ogy plays a role here too: At least 40 years of stud­ies sug­gest that peo­ple work harder if you limit their time to com­plete a cer­tain task. In some cases, work­ing too hard can ac­tu­ally re­duce out­put. Long work­ing

hours are also as­so­ci­ated with ill health, which means lost la­bor in the long term, as well as higher med­i­cal costs for em­ploy­ers and gov­ern­ment.”

Com­pa­nies in Swe­den are also mov­ing to a six­hour work day, in a bid to re­duce ab­sen­teeism, and im­prove pro­duc­tiv­ity and worker health. As a mat­ter of fact, em­ploy­ers across the Scan­di­na­vian coun­try have al­ready in­sti­tuted the change. Toyota cen­ters in Gothen­burg, made the tran­si­tion to a 35-hour work week more than 13 years ago, with the com­pany re­port­ing hap­pier – pro­duc­tive staff, a de­crease in turnover rate, and a rise in prof­its in that time.

Fil­i­min­dus, a Stock­holm-based app de­velop, in­tro­duced the six-hour day in 2015, think­ing the change would make em­ploy­ees hap­pier. Linus Feldt, the com­pany’s CEO told Fast Com­pany:

“I think the 8-hour work day is not as ef­fec­tive as one would think. To stay fo­cused on a spe­cific work task for 8 hours is a huge chal­lenge. We want to spend more time with our fam­i­lies, we want to learn new things or ex­er­cise more. I wanted to see if there could be a way to mix these things. 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.”

To cope with the 35-hour work week, Fil­imundus in­tro­duced a rigid new pro­duc­tiv­ity pol­icy: man­dat­ing that em­ploy­ees must stay off so­cial me­dia dur­ing work days and keep off other dis­trac­tions.

A four-hour work week is some­thing we’re fa­mil­iar with in the U.S. Although, un­der­em­ploy­ment be­came a big is­sue af­ter the 2008 dis­as­ter. To­day, even 40 hours a week feels drain­ing to many em­ploy­ees. There are one too many road­blocks along the way.

Towns in Swe­den have aban­doned this move in the past when it proved costly. Op­po­nents (Mod­er­ate Party) in Swe­den warn that idea is a utopian folly. If one city or a town, let alone Swe­den, were to adopt a 35-hour work week, the econ­omy would be in sham­bles from re­duced com­pet­i­tive­ness and strained fi­nances. The op­po­si­tion Mod­er­ates party ar­gues that the gov­ern­ment should not in­trude in the work­place, cit­ing high tax payer costs. But, a ma­jor­ity of em­ploy­ers in Swe­den be­lieve that to im­ple­ment a six-hour work day, peo­ple wages would be low­ered, and more peo­ple would be work­ing, in­creas­ing the prof­its no mat­ter.

But, let’s be clear: It all comes down to what kind of job you do. A lot of jobs re­quire the worker to be more fo­cused on be­ing on site at the right time. While some jobs de­mand more than 8 hours be­cause it re­quires ef­fort that can­not be ac­tu­ally mea­sured in “pro­duc­tiv­ity” or “ef­fi­ciency”. A re­duc­tion in work-day-hours for a pi­lot, chef, or sur­geon, would not ben­e­fit in to­tal pro­duc­tiv­ity. Pro­duc­tiv­ity can be in­creased by re­duc­ing the hours per day if you work in an in­dus­try with work-load that can be done to­day as well as to­mor­row.

Fun­da­men­tally, ev­ery­thing boils down to de­creas­ing amount of time spent at work while im­prov­ing the amount of work done. Of course, re­duced work-hours a day would im­prove pro­duc­tiv­ity if you re­fer to psy­chol­o­gist Philip Zim­bardo’s Stan­ford prison ex­per­i­ment (1971). In the work­place, we have a psy­chol­ogy con­tract that binds us to our work, co-work­ers and

su­per­vi­sors. If our man­agers are au­to­cratic and dis­re­spect­ful, we get pissed at for not be­ing treated bet­ter. We ex­pect rec­i­proc­ity, and as such, when we re­duce the work-week to 35 hours, em­ploy­ees feel that their pro­duc­tiv­ity and ef­fi­ciency must go up for this perk. More­over, re­duc­ing the work-hours in a day, forces work­ers to in­crease their ef­fi­ciency to match their pre­vi­ous base-line.

What does Swe­den aim to gain from a 6 hour work day?

• A more fo­cused and pro­duc­tive work force.

• An im­proved so­cial life and ex­tra time for leisure pur­suits for its cit­i­zens.

• A shorter peak traf­fic time.

• A health­ier work­force.

Pri­mar­ily, Swe­den’s six-hour work day is to en­cour­age work­ers to get their tasks done, and leave at a rea­son­able hour to en­joy a bet­ter so­cial life. The key part here lies in the will­ing­ness of em­ploy­ees to be dis­ci­plined and more fo­cused on their job dur­ing the work hours, in­stead of squan­der­ing away the time to do other things. This way, it would be even more eco­nom­i­cal for em­ploy­ers and would give em­ploy­ees more per­sonal time for leisure pur­suits.

Of course, some jobs re­quire longer hours. If com­pa­nies can pay em­ploy­ees for the ex­tra time if they’re will­ing to put it in. That’s a win for both sides. In the U.S. though, an­other added ben­e­fit of 35-hour work week is re­duced stress. Many work­ers tend to work far be­yond the nor­mal work-life bound­aries set by Scan­di­na­vian coun­tries. U.S. em­ploy­ees, es­pe­cially the ones in hy­per-com­pet­i­tive sec­tors such as bank­ing and fi­nance, have an um­bil­i­cal cord at­tached to their work emails. It’s made much worse by the ad­vance­ment of smart tech­nol­ogy, as one is ex­pected to re­spond at any time of the day or night to work de­mands. Now, such a life­style can cre­ate chaos in peo­ple’s per­sonal lives and re­duce the qual­ity of life.

Re­duc­ing the work day may not ex­actly re­duce emails, but at the very least, it would re­duce stress. Non-work ac­tiv­i­ties, such as power naps and walks, can have an in­vig­o­rat­ing ef­fect on work­ers dur­ing the day. By shift­ing to a six-hour work day, em­ploy­ers can ob­vi­ate small breaks, which would prove to be ef­fi­cient and in­crease pro­duc­tiv­ity dur­ing work hours.

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