You have probably heard about how Sweden debated instituting a six-hour workday with full-time pay and benefits. The hope was to save workers from the possible exploitation of longer hours and to make it easier for workers to achieve a positive work-life balance.
In Sweden, the six-hour workday was tested out among nurses in an elderly care home in Gothenburg. The nurses reported that they had more energy for their tasks and that the decreased hours led to increased enthusiasm about being at work. Part of this is because they had extra time to spend with their children and families.
After the trial ended, plans for a six-hour work day across the nation were scrapped, on account of the high cost. In other words, the labor cost of paying full wages for six hours was too high to make this a sustainable model.
It’s important to note, however, that nursing is a position that requires staffing during certain hours of the day or around the clock in some cases. During this trial, 17 nurses were hired on in order to cover the hours that were cut in order to make a six-hour schedule work. A six-hour workday will only work if you can condense the eight-hour workday’s productive projects into six hours.
For some people, this will be impossible, especially if employee hours are scheduled for staffing reasons. If, however, your job is more flexible, and you think that there are parts of the day in which you experience lag and decreased productivity due to the possible length of the day, then this could be a good place to start shaping up your productivity output.
Benefits of a 6-Hour Workday
The positive effects of the six-hour workday include increased energy throughout the entire workday without a slump. Taking short breaks allows your mind to rest and be more productive as you get back to work. Taking longer breaks, on the other hand, can halt productivity and cause a lack of motivation.
Due to the quick pace and increased value of the hours being worked, many people experience a strong productivity boost. Workers feel that each hour is more valued than it was before. At the same time, they feel more valued themselves as people, because their free-time has become an important consideration. This increases employee loyalty, and studies showed that fewer employees took sick leave while working six hours. A better work-life balance will also help to decrease burnout among those individuals who do not feel increased stress from this schedule.
Drawbacks of a 6-hour Workday
Some people work well in quick bursts of energy and project-based focus. For people like this, having a close cut-off time and limited breaks are a blessing. Other people, however, enjoy and even need the eight-hour workday to complete their projects. They may need a more leisurely pace or feel a sense of stress and stalling when they find time running out on them, rather than excitement and increased productivity. They might need their breaks to decompress their minds, and they might not mind the extra two hours they spend at the desk.
If the six-hour workday is a prospect that increases stress and decreases productivity, then it is certainly not right for you or your startup. If, however, you thrive off of fast-paced challenges and hate having that extended after-lunch slump, then give it a try for a week or two and see what you can accomplish.
Maximize a 6-hour Workday
1. Adjust Your Timing for Communication Needs
Since your work-day will not span the normal business hours, you should adjust your hours to make communication easier between yourself and whoever needs to reach you. If everyone will be contacting you between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., set your hours so that you will be available in that stretch of time. This is an especially important consideration if you are corresponding between different time zones.
2. Make a Clear Separation Between Work-time and Time Off
If you plan on having a six-hour workday, but end up dragging your workday late into the evening anyway, it will be difficult for you to take your six-hour workday seriously. A productive six-hour workday depends on a sense of urgency when you are in the office. It also depends on enjoying your free time away from the office when you are off work.
For many positions, it is necessary to field urgent calls and emails even during off-work hours. But try to keep checking emails to a minimum. Reward your workdays and validate your time off by taking a late-afternoon walk or hike, cooking meals you wouldn’t normally have time for, working on hobbies that you are passionate about, and spending time with your loved ones.
3. Make a Plan Each Day
Use the last five minutes of your workday to plan what you need to do tomorrow, so that you can get started right away without confusion.
Then, when you come into the office the next day, use your first 10 minutes to glance over your emails and memos, so you can plan a hard list of what you’ll need to do that day, including your notes from the previous day. This will set you on track to get your work down by progressing through the list. It will also minimize stress by keeping you from wondering what you should be doing next.
4. Keep a Productivity Journal
Keep a brief journal while you are trying this out. This can be part of your daily planner, if that makes it easier for you. Evaluate what you got done and how your workday went. It’s also important to make a note of how you feel at the end of the day. Do you still have the energy for your hobbies at home? Are you more drained now than if you had worked a full eight hours? Or do you find yourself excited to embrace the rest of your day?
This journal is a good place to note if you find your work piling up and do need those extra hours. Most of all, keep yourself open to change and feedback so that whether it’s this schedule or another one, you can find the work rhythm that’s best for your daily patterns.
If you are an entrepreneur or business owner that has the flexibility to adjust your hours, the 6 hour work-day might be for you. One of the major goals of any manager of a business is to increase productivity. A shorter work day may seem counter productive, but in actuality, may be the change your business needs. Test different methods to see if the change will advance your business and make you and your employees’ lives better.
This article was first published in December 2017 but has been updated and expanded.