Why we should embrace the six-hour working day

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Angelika Kagan/iStock
Gary Cattermole
Director
The Survey Initiative
Womba/Mumsnet
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Gary Cattermole, Director, The Survey Initiative, discusses how some companies in Scandinavia are introducing a six-hour day to boost levels of employee engagement and how this could really benefit businesses in the UK too.

No doubt if we held a referendum on who is fed-up with the 9-5 there would be a majority eager to embrace shorter hours for the same pay. For the man and woman on the street this could seem like a far-off dream, where big business has lost the plot.

But there’s a growing trend in Sweden for a switch to a six-hour working day in a bid to increase productivity and make people happier.

In Sweden employers have already made the change, according to the Science Alert website, which stated the aim in the reduction of hours was to get more done in a shorter amount of time and ensure people had the energy to enjoy their private lives.

Look at it a different way, would you ever expect a footballer to play an eight hour match?

Toyota centres in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city, made the switch 13 years ago, with the company reporting happier staff, a lower turnover rate, and an increase in profits in that time. In fact, according to Science Alert, doctors and nurses in some hospitals in the country have even made the move to the six-hour day too and patients have benefited from improved healthcare.

The rationale behind the six-hour day doesn’t just rest with a better work life balance; it’s also about managers taking a different look at employees to see how long staff can really be effective for?

Look at it a different way, would you ever expect a footballer to play an eight hour match?

Everyone understands it’s far too draining on them physically and mentally to play at optimum levels for so long, so why do we expect employees to give their best for a similar period of time?

The Swedish studies demonstrate that an employee can work effectively and keep themselves at ultimate productivity levels for six hours, much less than the eight – thirteen hour day expected in the UK.

Does this suit all?

So could six-hour days be introduced to the UK? Could our cash-strapped NHS also offer this style of working? It would seem unlikely that our national healthcare system or care home providers could cope with six-hour working days, but there are many industries which could really see the benefits.

I think there’s a big argument to suggest that office-bound workers could really benefit from fewer hours at their desk.

The six-hour day isn’t going to be possible for some workers in the UK, such as long-distance lorry drivers, in-flight personnel and factory operatives for example. But for the office-based service industry it could really focus employees’ attention on the job in hand and give them a much better quality of life, enabling them to come into the office feeling refreshed, and motivated to put all of their energies into a six-hour day.

A case study...

I recently read an article about a marketing consultancy that had trialled the six-hour day following inspiration from one of their Scandinavian clients that had already embraced the change.

They found it very weird at first, as they also implemented a strict one-hour lunchtime rule too - everyone was also encouraged to leave their desk and either go for a walk or play a game of table tennis in the staff room or read a book, etc.

I think there’s a big argument to suggest that office-bound workers could really benefit from fewer hours at their desk.

They structured their day between 9am with a leave time of 4pm and the staff were amazed by the benefits - many had taken up a new hobby and were learning a musical instrument, others remarked on how wonderful it was to leave the office in the cold winter months in daylight and miss all of the congestion from everyone leaving work at the same time.

Staff also commented on the benefits of spending more time with their family and being able to support other family members with household tasks, looking after elderly parents, the school run etc.

They also stated that they all felt refreshed when they came into the office and keen to get cracking, so that they could make the most of their free time too.

The majority of people are happy to forego Facebook updates during the day if it means they can go home at 4pm.

Naturally, there were a few days, due to client demands etc that they had to work over the six-hour day, but the switch to shortened hours transformed their working practises and altered the daily perspective of life in the office.

So, how is it practically possible to squeeze one working day into just six hours?

Streamlining is key - you have to think differently about your working practises and that can often be a great place to start considering how you can improve the ways you work.

How many hours are wasted if all team members take part in an hour long weekly Monday morning meeting?

Think about how you can reduce meetings to just 10 minutes, stop the waffle and just list the progress and actions for example.

Think about all the meetings you have in a week, and consider how these can be shortened, either with remote technology to reduce travel from one site to another, or by keeping the detail brief. Also get rid of the minutes and share a list of actions and key points: it saves so much time in drafting and reading!

It’s always best to trial new workplace approaches, but first consider how you inform your staff about the possible changes. Employees could be fearful of change and concerned if there are possible pay cuts or redundancies. This has to be introduced in a very positive way, and if it comes from a suggestion from the employees all the better.

Think about how you can reduce meetings to just 10 minutes, stop the waffle and just list the progress and actions.

Unfortunately there’s a lot of cynicism in the workplace following the recession and this will continue with the dawn of Brexit and the worry of ongoing uncertainty.

We all like to check our Facebook or Twitter feeds, but there’s no time for this in a six-hour day. Strict social media guidelines need to be introduced to stop people idling the hours by checking their social media accounts or playing games on their computer too.

The majority of people are happy to forego Facebook updates during the day if it means they can go home at 4pm.

Of course an element of trust is also required to ensure employees are not smartphone watching either.

Health benefits

There are also many health benefits too - not only are employees happier, they’re also much less likely to suffer a stroke.

Recent research has demonstrated a link between long working hours and the risk of stroke. A study by University College London showed that those working 55 hours or more per week had a 33% greater risk of stroke than those working a more balanced 35–40 hour work week. Working the longer set of hours also brings with it a 13% increased risk of developing coronary heart disease.

Recent research has demonstrated a link between long working hours and the risk of stroke.

Organisations that have made the switch aren’t looking back. Businesses have witnessed too many benefits for their staff, which in turn has created much more positive working environments, higher levels of employee engagement and rising productivity levels.

It’s also the best way to keep top talent - no-one wants to leave an organisation that has moved to the six-hour day.

Anyway, my time is up, and it’s off to the school run for me, followed by a game of table tennis.

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