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Tuesday, October 6, 2015
What the U.S. could learn from Sweden’s 6-hour work day
FORTUNE INSIDER SWEDEN
October 6, 2015, 1:20 PM EDT
America’s workers really only work six hours a day, anyway, so why not make it official.
Keeping with the spirit of work-life balance prized in Scandinavian countries, Sweden recently announced that it’s moving to a six-hour work day.
The news might make most in the U.S. pretty jealous, but there’s really
no reason for that. While an 8-hour work day is the norm in America,
U.S. workers really only work six hours a day and should officially
follow Sweden’s lead.
Even though most workers in the U.S. are
technically at work from 9 am to 5 pm, not all those hours are spent
actually working. The average time spent on private activities, such as online shopping, checking social media and emails, personal phone calls, and chatting with colleagues sucks up an estimated 1.5to 3 hours per day, according to studies cited by The Atlantic. Another study by CareerBuilder shows that most workers waste at least an hour or more each work day on personal stuff.
What this says is that out of an 8-hour
work day, most people only work about six hours anyway. The rest of the
time they are actually getting paid to take
care of their personal tasks. Now that might seem to be in the best
interests of workers, but it comes at the cost of a longer day at work
than may be natural or healthy.
That’s not necessarily a good tradeoff, especially for millennials, who
value free time and work-life balance a lot more than previous
A better solution would be for the U.S. to formally adopt a six-hour work day.
The central idea behind Sweden’s six-hour
work day is to encourage people to put in a focused six hours of work
during the day, get their tasks done, and leave at a reasonable hour in
order to enjoy their evening. The key part of that contract lies in the
willingness of workers to be disciplined and concentrate on their job
during work hours instead of doing other things (you know what I’m
talking about). Assuming that the Swedes do that, they would actually be
putting in the same amount of net work as their American counterparts.
It would be more economical for employers
and would give workers more personal time. Of course, some jobs require
longer hours and companies can simply pay workers for the extra time if
they’re willing to put it in. That’s a win for both sides.
For U.S. workers, another benefit for a
shorter work day is reduced stress, as many tend to work far beyond the
work-life boundaries set by many other countries. U.S. employers,
especially in hyper-competitive fields like finance, employees are tied
to their work emails around the clock — a phenomenon made much worse by
the advancement of smartphone technology, as they are expected to
respond at any time of day or night to work demands. That can play havoc
with people’s personal lives and reduce the quality of life.
Shortening the work day may not quash
around-the-clock emails and conference calls, but at the very least, it
would reduce stress for workers during the work day. It’s well documented
that non-work activities, such as naps and walks, can have a
rejuvenating effect on employees during a work day, and some companies
provide facilities for that, but that in itself is necessitated by the
sheer length of time a worker is expected to be at their desk in the
By shifting to a six-hour work day, the
need for such breaks can potentially be obviated, which would be more
efficient and enhance productivity during work hours.
So Sweden has it right, and the U.S. should follow.