The rise of the six-hour workday: An option for Australia? Featured

Could a six-hour work day improve the efficiency of your work?

First, here's what's going on in Sweden. 

Preliminary results from a two-year long 30-hour work week trial in Sweden have shown increases in both worker wellbeing and customer satisfaction.

Nurses at the Svartedalens retirement home in Gothenburg, Sweden, began the trial in February 2015, working two hours less per day while retaining their standard pay rate.

Lessened working hours also led to a 10% drop in sick leave taken, meaning the retirement home spent less on covering shifts for sick workers.

Assistant nurse at Svartedalens Lise-Lotte Pettersson told The Guardian before the trial that she was “exhausted all the time”, coming home from work and passing out on the couch.

“But not now. I am much more alert; I have much more energy for my work, and also for family life,” Pettersson said.

Benefits from increases in worker wellbeing were also passed on to the patients at the retirement home, with nurses spending more time on “social activity” whilst caring for the patients, ranging from walks to outdoor games.

However, Sweden might not be giving up the nine to five work week yet, with the pilot program business reporting a gross cost increase of 22%, after it was forced to hire additional part-time employees to cover the hours that the 68 nurses in the program were not working.

A local politician responsible for elderly care in the region told Bloomberg shorter working hours were “absolutely” associated with higher costs.

“It’s far too expensive to carry out a general shortening of working hours within a reasonable time frame,” Gothenburg city councillor Daniel Bernmar said.

The total additional expenses over the two years accounted to approximately $860,000. Final sets of results for the trial are expected in March.

Are shorter workdays a realistic option in Australia? 

While the concept of this trial may sound appealing to both workers and employers, experts believe any sort of local adoption is a long way off.

Founder of WattsNext HR Sue-Ellen Watts believes while there is “great innovation” happening in Australian workplaces, shorter working days across the board are unlikely.

“I’m definitely open to employers being more agile, but I can’t see this happening across the board in the near future,” Watts told SmartCompany.

“A lot of businesses are stuck in the traditional ways of working.”

For businesses to move forward, Watts says to look towards the millennials.

“Millennials will help us change our views of the workplace. They’re used to being connected 24/7, so they’ll start to think ‘why can’t we just work when it suits us?’” she says.

“Right now it’s hard for businesses to get their heads around, especially as it ultimately means more costs for the business.”

However, costs in employing workers could be offset by more efficiency, with focuses on wellbeing tending to lead to better outcomes for the business.

“The wellbeing space is the number one area motivating workers to prompt changes in their workplace,” Watts says.

“Employees being happier impacts how they do their work, and that means better outcomes for business. Once business owners can see this, you’ll see more radical changes being made.”

While Watts thinks employees are leading the way in a push towards more mindful businesses, there are a few things employers can easily do to promote wellbeing in their workers.

“Even simple things like educating workers about what healthy lunch options are nearby can go a long way to promoting wellbeing and getting workers to make better choices everyday,” she says.

“Installing stand up desks and weekly exercise plans can also see employees getting involved.”

This is an edited version of an article that was originally published on SmartCompany

Dominic Powell

Dominic Powell is a freelance journalist with an interest in technology, startups and music.

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