Sweden Is Experimenting With A 6-Hour Workday. Here's Why We Should, Too.

Working smart while still working hard.

Fast Companyrecently took a look at the rising popularity of the six-hour workday in Sweden, where many companies are finding that the shorter day not only increases employee satisfaction and retention, it also boosts productivity. 

Although most Americans take the eight-hour workday for granted, it was one of the key demands of the burgeoning labor movement in the second half of the 19th century. Discover.com notes that by 1890, manufacturing employees were working an average of 100 hours a week. The History Channel reports that although Ford motors gave its workers eight-hour, Monday-thru-Friday shifts in 1926 — an idea that began to spread throughout the manufacturing industry in America and abroad — it wouldn't be until the 1950s that the eight-hour workday became the norm. 

In 2013, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the majority of Americans spend 8.7 hours a day working. In two Gallup surveys taken in 2013 and 2014, however, nearly 20 percent of Americans reported working more than 50 hours a week. The New York Times reported that these long hours may raise the risk of stroke by more than 33 percent.

Even without those grim statistics, the Swedish reasons for a six-hour day are compelling. Let's take a look.

1. It allows workers to focus more intensely.

Linus Feldt, CEO of Stockholm app developer Filimundus, recently implemented a six-hour day for his employees, citing the reality that many working longer hours spend much of their time trying to find ways to make the day bearable. According to Fast Company, Feldt asked his team to stay off social media and eliminated some weekly meetings.

He discussed his thoughts on the matter with Fast Company. "In order to cope, we mix in things and pauses to make the workday more endurable," he said in an interview. "At the same time, we are having it hard to manage our private life outside of work. 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" Feldt adds.

2. Six-hour workdays increase productivity.

The Guardian reports that the shortening of the work day from eight to six hours for nurses at Svartedalens, a Gothenburg retirement home is helping to prevent job burnout and, in doing so, increasing efficiency.

"I used to be exhausted all the time, I would come home from work and pass out on the sofa," Lise-Lotte Pettersson, a nurse at the facility told The Guardian. "But not now. I am much more alert: I have much more energy for my work and also for family life."

University of Lund researcher Roland Paulsen discussed the perceived relationship between long workdays and productivity as people begin to work longer and longer days outside of the Swedish model. "For a long time politicians have been competing to say we must create more jobs with longer hours — work has become an end in itself," he told The Guardian. "But productivity has doubled since the 1970s, so technically we even have the potential for a four-hour working day. It is a question of how these productivity gains are distributed. It did not used to be utopian to cut working hours — we have done this before."

3. It improves quality of life for employees.

Linus Feldt draws a correlation between business success and employee happiness. "I believe that we value time more than money today," he told Fast Company. "I am absolutely sure that more and more people would choose more free time before a high salary. Going from an eight-hour day to six has helped us spread the message that we invest in our staff. That we believe that a happy staff is the absolute top priority for a successful company. If your staff is happy, your company is happy."

Maria Bråth, CEO of Brath, a Swedish tech company, echoes some of the sentiments expressed by Feldt in an essay on her company's blog.

"We also believe that once you've gotten used to having time for the family, picking up the kids at day care, spending time training for a race or simply just cooking good food at home, you don't want to lose that again," she writes. "We believe that this is a good reason to stay with us and not only because of the actual impact longer hours would make in your life but for the reason behind our shorter days. That we have shorter days is not the main reason people stay with us, they are the symptom of the reason. The reason is that we actually care about our employees, we care enough to prioritize their time with the family, cooking or doing something else they love doing."