Why We Need A 6-Hour Work Day Yesterday

by Lily Feinn
Young businesswoman using a digital tablet while at work
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If you think nine hours is too long to spend in an office each day — you're probably right! The Swedish government funded a study about having a six-hour work day and found that not only did it make people happier, and healthier, but also more productive while on the job. The experiment took place at the Svartedalens retirement home where 68 nurses worked six-hour shifts instead of the normal eight-hour day over the course of a year. For the study, the nurses did not have to sacrifice money for the hours lost, and were able to keep their original salaries.

When the data was compared to a control group working eight-hour days in a comparable retirement facility, the results were clearly in favor of the lighter schedule. The six-hour work day boasted both physical and emotional health benefits for the employees — the test group called out sick half as much as the control group, and were nearly three times less likely to take time off two weeks in a row. The nurses were reported to be 20 percent happier overall, and participation in activities with the residents increased by 64 percent. Lise-Lotte Pettersson, who works as an assistant nurse at Svartedalens, described her experience to The Guardian, “I used to be exhausted all the time, I would come home from work and pass out on the sofa, but not now I am much more alert. I have much more energy for my work, and also for family life.”

The study also found that when the nurses were healthier and more efficient, the residents received better care. Bengt Lorentzon, a researcher on the project, explained to Bloomberg, "If the nurses are at work more time and are more healthy, this means that the continuity at the residence has increased, that means higher quality [care]."

The one drawback of implementing the six-hour work day (and why it probably won't come to the United States anytime soon) was purely financial. Bloomberg reports that to cover the gap in the hours, Svartedalens hired 15 extra nurses. This cost them an additional $735,000, though the decrease in calling out sick did offset some of this expense. However, some worry that the nurses' gains in productivity may not transfer over to desk jobs.

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"The Swedish model will not be easily accepted in the United States because we are a nation of workaholics," Pramila Rao, an associate professor of human resource management at Marymount University, told Bloomberg. According to ABC News, Americans "work more than anyone in the industrialized world." They work longer weeks (38.6 hours a week on average), and take much less vacation (averaging at less than eight paid vacay days a year. A year!). No wonder burnout and work-life balance are such hot button issues. In so many industries, there is a mentality that an employee should stay late, even if they are not being productive. Hopefully, with more studies like the one at Svartedalens, this perception will change.

Working 30 hours and being paid for 40 sounds pretty good to me. Even if it does means less Facebook surfing.

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