Work-life balance is something nearly everyone strives for. There are many ideas behind what work-life balance is as well as many methods to obtain it within the workforce. There has been a lot of buzz about Sweden adopting a shorter work day to increase productivity and create a happier workforce. Did shorter days deliver on the its promise? The results vary.
In a yearlong experimental study funded by the Swedish government, nurses at a retirement home worked six-hour days on an eight-hour salary. A control group at another facility was used for comparison purposes. The study wanted to explore the impact of shorter workdays on productivity. The results showed that 68 nurses who worked six-hour days took half as much sick time as those in the control group, and they were 2.8 times less likely to take any time off in a two-week period.
The six-hour work day is not a new concept as it has been tested before by various organizations, in Sweden and across the world. A Toyota service center in Gothenburg, Sweden has successfully run a six-hour workweek for 13 years, which has resulted in a 25% profit gain and increases in employee health. However, one Swedish home care services company also adopted this work concept from 1989 to 2005, but it was abolished due to a lack of data proving it was beneficial.
It is worth looking at the pros and cons of this method of creating a work-life balance to see if it is appropriate for an organization. A shorter working week may be successful for some organizations but not others. It often depends on company culture and industry.
- Employees working long hours may experience burnout and become unproductive due to fatigue. Adopting a shorter workday may decrease the chances of burnout.
- Shorter workdays may be a successful perk to increase employee retention and decrease staff turnover.
- An overall healthier workforce will increase productivity and decrease sick days.
- For many jobs, a six-hour work day is just not feasible. For example, six-hour workdays for doctors, school teachers, or emergency personnel is not feasible due to the requirements of those positions.
- Distractions happen at the workplace. According to a study, employees spend an estimated 1.5 to three hours per day on personal activities such as email and social media. If the workday is six hours, then, according to this study, employees will only be working around four hours per day. Employees with constant access to computers or mobile technologies are more susceptible to distractions like personal email and social media.
- In industries that are competitive or customer-service based, employers have to maintain compatibility with their competition. Therefore, if a company is available to customers for eight hours a day, it is in the best interest of its competition to do the same. Sometimes matching availability is not feasible for shorter workdays because the availability window does not break up easily.
Companies differ in many ways and adopting a six-hour workday may work for some companies but not for others. It is important for companies to consider culture to determine what employees really need with regards to gaining support for their health and wellness. A shorter workday is not the only way to support a work-life balance. Employers can offer longer vacation or paid time off as well as telecommuting options. Employers should focus on work-life balance, employee health, and burnout, but since each organization is unique, the appropriate solutions for promoting work-life balance will differ from group to group. Asking employees what will benefit them the most is a great way to start.