The eight-hour workday hasn’t changed much since Henry Ford first experimented with it for factory workers. Now, Americans work slightly longer—an average 8.7 hours—though more time goes into email, meetings, and Facebook than whatever our official job duties actually are. Is it time to rethink how many hours we spend at the office?
In Sweden, the six-hour workday is becoming common.
“I think the eight-hour workday is not as effective as one would think,” says Linus Feldt, CEO of Stockholm-based app developer Filimundus. “To stay focused on a specific work task for eight hours is a huge challenge. . . . In order to cope, we mix in things and pauses to make the workday more endurable. At the same time, we are having it hard to manage our private life outside of work. We want to spend more time with our families, we want to learn new things or exercise more. I wanted to see if there could be a way to mix these things.”
It’s also happening in the public sector. In one recent experiment, nurses at a government-run retirement home were able to switch to a six-hour day for the same pay. In that case, it did cost more money. But the costs were offset by better care for patients because nurses were less exhausted.
The retirement-home experiment is temporary, and may not become official policy. In the 1990s, some other Swedish retirement homes and day cares tested out six-hour days and then ended up switching back because of the cost. But the shift in private companies may happen more quickly.
Everyone who works at the company suddenly has more energy. “The biggest response that I couldn’t foresee was the energy level I felt with my colleagues,” he says. “They were happy leaving the office and happy coming back the next day. They didn’t feel drained or fatigued. That has also helped the work groups to work better together now, when we see less conflicts and arguments. People are happier.”
It’s something that he sees as fundamental to the company’s success.