Could Shorter Workdays Increase Productivity?

American adults employed in full-time positions work an average of 47 hours per week, nearly a full day longer than a “normal” work week. Many more people work overtime hours, assuming that a greater amount of time spent on the job means getting more done. However, the results of a recent experiment in Sweden run counter to this idea, showing that putting in fewer hours may offer better results. In an experiment last year, nursing home employees at Svartedalens in Gothenburg, Sweden, switched to a six-hour workday, with no cut in pay. According to an audit performed in mid-April,  the program improved productivity, worker health, and reduced absenteeism.

Could shorter workdays increase productivity for you and your employees? We explore the pros and cons of a shorter workday.

Shortening the Work Week

To test the effectiveness of a six-hour work day, amounting to 30 hours of work per week instead of the traditional 40, the Svartedalens nursing home in Sweden implemented a new work schedule for its employees and did an audit to determine the results one year later. The data showed a decrease in absenteeism, higher levels of productivity and improved employee health. Workers also reported greater job satisfaction, a factor that may have contributed to the fact that they were able to get more work done.

Similar results were noted when the Sahlgrenska University Hospital reduced hours and expanded its staff to cover the new shift rotation. Efficiency increased to the point where the hospital was able to not only complete more operations but also take on other procedures that they previously didn’t have time for.

Getting More Done in Less Time

Statistics from the Svartedalens experiment showed that the nurses on the shorter work shifts were 2.8 times less likely to take time off over a two-week period and took half as much sick leave as those on traditional shifts. If these results could be replicated in other work environments, it would mean more time on the job despite the shorter work week. Employees with truncated work schedules also tend to concentrate more on their jobs, attempting to optimize the hours that they have instead of being distracted by other activities such as browsing social media or shopping online. Having more time to rest and recharge outside of the office fuels this higher level of concentration so that each hour is spent working at full capacity.

Potential Drawbacks

Some critics of the 30-hour work week point out that time working means decreased pay and less money circulating in the economy. In order to promote continued economic growth, it might be necessary for employers to pay more per hour. However, given the increased productivity observed in companies trying out this new work model, higher pay may be possible with the corresponding increase in profits. More studies need to be conducted to determine the long-term viability of this unconventional business model.

After decades of putting work before family, health and personal time, it may be difficult for Americans to acclimate to the idea of a shorter work week. However, many employers are already experimenting with flexible hours and alternative work environments in an attempt to help employees reach a state of balance. If these approaches turn out to be as successful as the experiment in Sweden, the 30-hour work week may one day become a viable possibility.

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