Blog: Does a 6-hour work day always improve productivity?

Performance Management

Does a 6-hour work day always improve productivity?

The recent news about companies in Sweden switching to a 6-hour work day has made a lot of us jealous. Well, I know I got a bit jealous. But let’s face it - not every organization will benefit from it.
Does a 6-hour work day always improve productivity?

How it all started: A hand full of companies in Sweden – for example the Toyota service centers in Gothenburg - made this move 13 years before the research study happened. The trial took place in 2014 in Svartedalens, an old-age home in Sweden, which was ‘controlled’ by a few business researchers as a part of the experiment. The scientists tried to understand how reducing the working hours of the nurses at the elderly home impacted their efficiency. The nurses were made to work for six hours on a work day for a year instead of the traditional eight-hour-shift. Their salaries were not changed. The result of this trial was a stress-free, high productive environment which helped the nurses take better care of the elderly. The participants of the trial reported that they felt more active and happier during their time at work, as well as outside. The outcome of the trail compelled several Swedish companies to slash their working hours by 25%. Many people around the world are thrilled about this development, but will 6-hour work day be good for every organization?

Let’s take a look at the possible advantages and disadvantages of switching to 30-hour work week:

Pros: 

1. Happy employees – This is a given. Few people would dislike having a life outside work.

2. Lower attrition – Employees would become more comfortable working with organizations which have less working hours.

3. Work-life balance – Reducing work hours would help employees have sufficient time for their families and recreational activities.

Cons: 

1. More manpower, increased expenses – This happiness would cost companies a great deal of money to hire more employees to maintain the companies’ services and productivity.

2. Not every organization can afford it – While major multinationals have the capacity to hire more employees, it is not feasible for many start-ups and other mid-level organizations to do the same.

3. Could slacken already unmotivated employees – An excessively relaxed workplace could prompt some of the employees to take their employers for granted.

4. Sample size of the research is too small to make a universal proclamation - The sample size of the nurses at Svartedalens is too small to make a point for the millions of organizations that exist globally.

Let us introspect here a bit – do we utilize every minute of our 8-hour shift to ‘work’? Obviously no! The regular 40-hour work includes all the little breaks, pointless meetings and those precious moments during which we procrastinate to start our work at a later time in the day. 15 years ago, French Government had passed a labor law which restricted employee work hours to 35 hours per week, but the reality is far from the law – French employees work for 40.5 hours on an average. 

No investment banker or ad professional will be excited even if this rule were introduced in their organizations because they are virtually working every moment they are awake. As much as I think that making employees overwork for the company is bad, I also think that making them work less is not the answer to every organization’s challenges. So while it is a great and noble thing to care about employee well-being, a 6-hour workday is certainly not a panacea for low productivity for most organizations.

Topics: Performance Management, Leadership, Culture, Strategic HR

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