A series of pilot projects in Sweden has shown that cutting working hours can create healthier, more productive employees. The most high-profile initiative was at an elderly care home where 80 nurses switched to six-hour days as part of a two-year controlled trial of shorter hours. Eighty staff at a similar care home continued to work their usual eight-hour shifts.
Nurses working fewer hours reported being less stressed and took fewer sick days. They also said they had greater energy on the job and were more productive while at work.
Although the six-hour workday is far from being the norm in Sweden, the country has earned a reputation for employee-friendly initiatives, such as paid time off and job sharing. Only around 1% of employees work more than 50 hours a week. Swedes are given 25 vacation days, and parents get 480 days of paid parental leave to split between them.
The story is very different in the US, where half of all employees report working up to 10 hours a day, or 50 hours a week. In South Korea and Japan the numbers are even higher.
Long hours, stress, and lack of time spent with family and friends can lead to unhappiness and a lower quality of life. Studies show that employees who work more than 11 hours a day are more than twice as likely to develop depression and more than 60 times more likely to develop heart disease. Longer work hours can contribute to obesity, an overall weakened immune system and difficulty sleeping.
The two biggest myths about longer workdays:
Working long hours is good for business
According to K. Anders Ericsson, a Professor of Psychology at Florida State University and co-author of “Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise”, this is a fallacy. A lengthy workday tends to create burnout.
“People push themselves to the point where they will have problems. They may not be able to recoup.”
When you’re tired and stressed you won’t do your best work – in fact, much of what you do accomplish may have to be redone the next day, when you’re not so tired.
Working long days and weeks is good for the country
In her essay Why We Have to Go Back to a 40-Hour Work Week to Keep Our Sanity, Sara Robinson argues that America’s unemployment problem would vanish if businesses simply returned to the standard 40-hour work week.
“For every four Americans working a 50-hour week, every week, there’s one American who should have a full-time job, but doesn’t.”