Insurance · 2 October 2015

Sweden hasn’t actually adopted the six-hour workday, but it could be the way to go

Shorter workdays could result in improved health and more productive employees
Shorter workdays could result in improved health and more productive employees

Many headlines have sprung up across international media discussing the new six-hour workday, which droves of Swedish employers were apparently introducing. A Swedish-based journalist has said this is actually something of an exaggeration, though the debate does flag up why young businesses in particular, should try to think outside the norm when it comes to making a name for themselves.

Maddy Savage, editor of The Local, said “the hype has little to do with the reality”. While the Swedes have been known to work some of the shortest hours in Europe, Savage said among the 100 or so contacts she had built up in Stockholm over the past year, “not one of them works for an employer offering such compressed hours”.

Despite much international media attention of late – a bulk of which came from an interview with Stockholm-based app developer Filimundus with Fast Company where the CEO discussed introducing a six-hour workday – the majority of firms, from startups to big brands, don’t seem to have brought in the changes.

Toyota centres in Gothenburg were referred to, but they made the switch some 13 years ago, with a more recent example being a Swedish retirement home trialling a shorter day in February. That’s not to say a six-hour day isn’t the way to go – of those experimenting, some positive feedback has included happier staff and improved employee attraction and retention.

The health factor has also been cited – a study analysing data from 25 studies monitoring the health of some 600,000 people across the US, Europe and Australia for nearly ten years found that people working 55 hours a week had a 33 per cent greater risk of having a stroke than those who worked 35-40 hour weeks.

The CEO of Filimundus, Linus Feldt, said the typical eight-hour workday wasn’t as effective as people assumed. “In order to cope, we mix things and pauses to make the workday more endurable,” he told Fast Company.

“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.” So far, he feels it has been easier for staff to focus more intensely on work that needs to be done, while still having energy left when it’s time to head home.

Savage added that even the notion of working shorter-hours within Sweden was less black and white than statistics would have it appear though, quoting one media professional who said they did leave the office at 5.30pm but would spend their evenings and weekends checking emails. Other anecdotal quotes followed a similar pattern.

A lawyer said there were plenty of stories of young lawyers “sleeping under their desks at the big firms here, just like in London or Sydney – the desks are just sleek Scandinavian ones”.

Shorter days met yet prove a route to higher productivity – Roland Paulsen, a researcher in business administration at the University of Lund, said “technically we even have the potential for a four-hour working day”. But as yet, Swedish employers on the whole haven’t been rushing to adopt it.

The news and buzz around the topic does though, emphasise the appeal of ways to make the workday less monotonous, more fulfilling and in doing so finding different ways to appeal to employees – both current and new. For a startup like Filimundus, the pros of introducing an unusual policy like this are plentiful, and while it may not have been picked up by the masses just yet, it reinforces the importance of younger businesses thinking of different ways to operate, that can make them stand out.

Aside from the possible pros of talent attraction – often a big trouble for newer businesses, Feldt’s company has been mentioned by a plethora of media outlets across the globe – a savvy bit of PR indeed.

Image: Shutterstock

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Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.