Six-Hour Workdays: As Great As They Sound?
When I saw this article, titled “Sweden Is Shifting to a 6-Hour Work Day,” I thought, wow, interesting. The article makes the valid point that it’s hard to stay focused on the task at hand for an entire eight-hour workday. In order to get through the day, we dabble in non-work activities, such as checking personal email, planning a trip, or posting on Twitter.
According to the article, people at some of the companies who've switched to a six-hour day are expected to avoid these distractions and focus fully on their work. That’s not inconceivable; some employees who went part-time back when I was an IT manager accomplished as much in their reduced workweek as they previously had in a full workweek because their singular focus was their work. It made me think we should have everyone go part-time.
Still, if a six-hour day becomes the norm, won’t it be just as natural to divert attention to non-work activities as in eight hours? Activities such as gossiping with coworkers are so natural that it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that they eventually become part of a six-hour workday, too.
Whatever the case, it turns out that Sweden isn’t quite making the shift the article reported. While the “Sweden is shifting” title was an attention-getter, very few companies have actually implemented a six-hour workweek. It turns out that not only do employees in many Swedish companies not work a reduced workweek, but many put in more than fifty hours. And the employees who do spend less time at work often have to check email in the evening and on weekends.
Of course, it’s not just in Sweden that people work fifty hours a week. According to one survey, almost half of US workers say they typically put in more time than that a week. Furthermore, many of these people may not be including the time they spend doing work while at home, which could very well bring the total to sixty hours a week or more.
In the view of some, the key isn’t to shorten the workday, but rather to shorten the workweek. Many organizations that have shifted to a four-day workweek have identified benefits in terms of flexibility, productivity, and recruitment. Maybe people who know they have an extra day off can work more effectively during their longer workday than people on a longer work week but a shorter work day.
But if a four-day workweek is good, wouldn’t a three-day workweek be even better? We can dream.