Less Work is Better Work? Swedish City is Going to Try 6-Hour Workday

Europe is already known for more progressive approaches to work hours and time off than the United States. Look at any roundup of vacation weeks in Europe vis-a-vis the United States and we come in last place. In fact, the United States is the “only developed country without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday.” By law, every country in the European Union has at least of four weeks of paid vacation.

But it’s not just vacation standards that are different; work hours vary as well. The French are often cited for their 35-hour working week, but now Sweden is making news with a new experiment starting this summer. Beginning July 1st, the city of Gothenburg is splitting some government workers into two groups: those who work eight-hour days and those that work six-hour days. All employees will receive the same pay, and after a year the government will analyze data to see whether or not a shorter work week is in fact a good thing.

“We’ll compare the two afterwards and see how they differ,” Mat Pilhem, the Left Party deputy mayor of Gothenburg, told The Local. “We hope to get the staff members taking fewer sick days and feeling better mentally and physically after they’ve worked shorter days.”

But it’s not just about sick days. A look at data from the OECD countries shows that there is in fact a positive correlation between working fewer hours and productivity levels. Working less could be good for us.

Gothenburg leaders behind the experiment cite the local Toyota plant as an example of how a shorter work week can be good for both workers and business. The Toyota branch went to a six-hour day in 2002, allowing it to have two shifts, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, as opposed to one day-long shift. That has in turn made workers more productive because it requires fewer breaks.

“Every time you have a break, it takes 10 to 15 minutes to get back to work, because you have to see where you were when you left off,” Toyota worker Robert Nilsson told Agence France-Presse.

Opponents aren’t so sure.

“It’s the kind of populist and socialist policy that’s very dangerous for the economy, and we shouldn’t go through with it,” warned Maria Ryden, a member of Gothenburg city council for the centre-right Moderates, which oppose the plans, told Agence France-Presse. “We’re capable of working more.”

The discussion of shorter hours isn’t new. In 1930 essay, notable economist John Maynard Keynes postulated that by 2030, people might not need to work more than 15 hours a week. Almost a century later, Keynes’ projections seem laughable given the amount that most of us work, but when we look at the data, there is certainly an argument to be made for working less. While in the United States, Americans have managed to keep fairly long work hours and stay productive, the new experiment in Sweden will provide interesting insight to the ongoing discussion.

Maybe one day working less will be the new normal?

Photo Credit: Phil Whitehouse

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Don Vreeland
Don Vreelandabout a year ago

I'm loving the discourse here both 'left n right' - except for personal attacks (not even on PBS McLaughlin Grp).
I'm both and am / will B small biz owner (when other issues resolved - or dead).

Freedom of hours: 12X4 / 12X3 / 10X4 / 6X5 / 6X4 / 4X5 is all good to me by / for Personal preference.

RW Agree (Libertarianish): Yes, too much Gov't commanding us.
LW Agree (Humanistic): Work to live not other. What's life aim?
(not Commie / Soc'ist / Dem'crt)

Don Vreeland
Don Vreelandabout a year ago

I fancy myself as 'dilettante economist' and Y must we work to death staff B 4 new staff? Of course 'they' say 'productivity'.
However, I think this could work, if nothing else, reduce pay of staff and all with 'full benefits'.

We've got INCREDIBLE 'SLACK' in this econ - - 119 million work FT / 129 M Don't. About 100M I call 'idle'. 'Participation Rate' trending down for years, even with recovery.
- - my work: explode.freeshell.org/econ_discus_num.html
from www.bls.gov

SARCASM: What's wrong with our Econ? Hmm... I don't kno:

119 million work FT / 129M Don't. > 105% potential increase in FT Workers. About 100M I call 'idle'. > 37% not working who want.
'Participation Rate' trending down for years, even with recovery.
(digress: can someone help me - FTP Software to put up July figures, .html , out 8.1.2014 8:30am)

Charmaine C.
Charmaine C.about a year ago

This will be an interesting experiment. I look forward to the eventual report.

janet t.
janet T.about a year ago

My husband worked 12 hour days right up until he retired, and he was in a white collar job. I would have been happy to see 8 hour days as a reality. Unfortunately a lot of our 8 hour jobs are really 10 hour jobs, or more.

Robert Hamm
Robert Hammabout a year ago

or there will be a revolution*

Robert Hamm
Robert Hammabout a year ago

You really ARE obtuse David. Its no wonder your world view is so simplistic.

Eventually things like SS or other programs that allow people to have a decent standard of living will have to be implemented. The people who cannot find work…..and there are MANY as simply not going to roll over and die. Our system is going the have to change.
Our idea of what work is for will have to change. Working for a living is going to be impossible for a larger and larger segment of the population so some kind of social programs will become mandatory. Either the government will have to implement someting or businesses will have to be forced to adapt. or there wukk sinokt bwe a revolution. Not to worrry David You will likley be dead by then just like I will. But the problem IS out there and WILL have to be dealt with……..most likely by the government.

David F.
David F.about a year ago

Barbara D., your cats are awesome.

Janis K.
Janis K.about a year ago

Thanks for sharing.

Barbara D.
Past Member about a year ago

No thank you, Sweden!! I will happily keep my 10hr 4day weeks.
Even if someone is working less daily hours, how will they feel about 1day weekends? They'll be missing Sven's Saturday soccer games. Some of them will have to find willing sitters/nannies too.

David F.
David F.about a year ago

Robert: I think I get it; you want everyone to work less so we can spread the jobs fairly, that way more people are working. Since there will be fewer jobs in the future that can sustain a family. What is it you want the government to do about it?