Are 6-hour working days a good idea?

For years, Scandinavians have had a reputation for placing at least as much importance on their personal life and well-being as on their professional endeavours and expectations. One consequence of this concern has been the emergence of the 6-hour working day, which first became popular in the 1990s, and is having a resurgence today. But is it really feasible?

Erika Hellstrom, and many like her, the answer is yes. The theory is that working fewer hours means people are actually more productive within the time they do put in, and therefore get just as much done – if not more. It’s not just a case of clocking out of work early; Swedes are expected to completely omit social media, online shopping, personal calls, and other irrelevant activities from their work day. And as these pass-times have been found to eat up a massive 1.5 – 3 hours of the average American worker’s workday, as reported by The Atlantic, the maths adds up. Essentially, you’ll be spending the exact same amount of time working while at work. Just fewer hours squandered procrastinating in the office, and more freed up to spend as you wish.

Sectors from mechanics (such as at a Toyota service centre in Sweden), to the public sector, to carers in a retirement home, have been finding huge benefits in cutting down on hours. People are able to work harder, with higher levels of commitment and focus, and a stronger drive to do well in order to prove their ability to complete the work in a shorter amount of time, and thus retain the favourable hours.

Of course, this change would come with a whole host of health benefits – which, naturally, translate to financial benefits for the boss. Workers will probably find they need to take fewer sick days or personal days away from work, avoiding conditions from depression and anxiety, to cardiovascular diseases stemming from sitting all day, weight gain, and productivity-denting fatigue, with a huge array of afflictions and troubles in between. In addition, employees would be happier, having had more time to spend doing activities they truly enjoy and find fulfilling, and have a much more positive relationship with the business. Undoubtedly, this would translate to much better work being produced – particularly as it is far easier to concentrate for 6 hours than for 8.

The consequent division from personal time and professional time would surely be a relief for most people, with an implicit agreement being forged within these 6-hour day businesses and their customers not to contact each other for business-related matters out of hours. This means that even if you choose to allocate yourself another couple of hours of work per day, even on your own time, you can count on having the evening and weekend to unwind, without being interrupted by work calls or emails. This break is absolutely crucial for psychological well-being, and to give you the opportunity to focus on other important areas of your life.

That’s not to say it’s for everybody. Obviously, the benefits of a 6-hour day – even the possibility – vary from personality type to personality type, and job role to job role. For some, the added time pressure may increase rather than reduce stress, while Pia Webb even suggests trying to find ways to fill up the spare time can end up creating even more work and pressure, especially for those who dislike sitting around.

So while the 6-hour working day may not be a universal possibility, it certainly opens up a lot of questions and issues for employers to consider, regarding the balance they offer employees between work and personal life. Whether this means allowing people to work from home, or put in some hours fromoutside the office, or just cutting down the working day altogether, showing some consideration for employees’ needs could go a long way, and do a lot for worker-employer relationships, as well as increasing productivity and quality of work.

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