6-hour workday catching on in Sweden; could it work in Canada?

Do you ever find yourself looking at the clock and counting down the hours until you're off work? Some say a shorter workday may be the solution.
Do you ever find yourself looking at the clock and counting down the hours until you're off work? Some say a shorter workday may be the solution. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)

Is it time to give the eight-hour workday a two-hour trim? Some Swedish companies have done it to very positive results.

Stockholm-based CEO Linus Feldt decided to implement the shorter hours at his company Filimundus, a children’s games app developer, a year ago.

“What I noticed: instead of seeing my employees being exhausted, they were happy when they left and they were happy when they came in in the morning,” said Feldt.

“It’s a very nice feeling to be able to go home to your family two hours earlier.”

He encouraged his employees to “go out and do something” with the extra freedom of more time. “Treat those two extra hours as something really luxurious. Go to a museum. Take a course. Increase the fulfillment in your lives.”

The change led to fewer conflicts and negative feedback at work, as well as more focus — thanks in part to the elimination of distractions like “unnecessary meetings” and socializing. To compensate for the decreased interaction, staff began to socialize more during their one-hour lunch breaks, which were often previously spent in front of their computers. (It’s been found that skipping lunch breaks actually decreases productivity.)

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At Filimundus, productivity stayed the same despite the shortened work day. At Brath, another Swedish tech startup, management said productivity went up when its hours were reduced three years ago.

“We get more done in six hours than comparable companies do in eight,” the company wrote in a blog post earlier this month. “We believe nobody can be creative and productive in eight hours straight. Six hours is more reasonable, even though we too, of course, check Facebook or the news at times.”

Some research has suggested that employees lose their focus within seven hours of work. Another study claimed the key to productivity is taking a break: a 17-minute break every 52 minutes, to be exact.

At several Swedish vehicle service centres, the switch to a six-hour day 13 years ago resulted in increased profits. In the medical field, the change has been a little more costly but has been linked to higher quality and efficiency in care. And like all other workplaces that have reduced their hours, retention rates skyrocket.

Could a six-hour day work in Canada?

Despite the 40-hour workweek still being the norm in Sweden, Feldt is confident that the six-hour system could work in any country, and in any industry. Others are a little more apprehensive.

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Joe Martin, of the Rotman School of Management, agrees that the current eight-hour “make-work” model is not necessarily the perfect solution. But he “would be very, very cautious” to abandon it for a shorter hours for fear of falling behind the U.S., which he sees as Canada’s direct competitor.

“Kitchener-Waterloo has to match Silicon Valley,” he reasoned.

Scott Schieman, chair of the University of Toronto’s sociology department, feels the biggest barrier to introducing a six-hour day would be the workload and the time pressure demands in many workplaces.

“Often, people cite having too much work to do and not enough time to do it, or they are forced to rush on many different tasks in rapid succession. So, cutting the work hours to six per day might not work for many organizations or sectors.”

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“There is some sense that a four-day workweek might be more optimal, especially if work doesn’t creep into the other days.”

He’s previously advocated for “different kinds of ‘flexible arrangements’” that let people “have more control over when they start and finish work, the timing and the location.”

READ MORE: Secret to successful telecommuting? Moderation, research shows

Three-day workweeks have also been thrown out there as an option.

WATCH: Would you be willing to work three 12-hour days in a row, in order to have four straight days off – each and every week?

Tim Ferris shot to fame with his four-hour work week philosophy.

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And even Henry Ford, the father of our standard eight-hour/five-day workweek, wasn’t entirely sold on it as a forever solution.

“The five day week is not the ultimate, and neither is the eight hour day. It is enough to manage what we are equipped to manage and to let the future take care of itself. It will anyway. That is its habit,” he’s said to have written in 1926.

“But probably the next move will come in the direction of shortening the day rather than the week,” Ford concluded.

Feldt feels it’s high time for change.

“At these times, I think people value time more than money.”

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