You’ve probably heard the old adage that “nothing in life is certain but death and taxes.
Sweden made headlines towards the end of last year for its introduction of a six-hour workday. A number of businesses across the country instituted the change, with the idea that because the working day has been condensed, people will be more motivated and have more energy to get more done in a shorter period of time.
The standard eight-hour workday has not changed much since its origins in the Industrial Revolution. However, despite the technological advances meant to compress how much time we work, our working hours seem to be getting longer – we spend more time reading and responding to emails, sitting in meetings, and doing many other computing tasks than ever before. In the United States, the average person works closer to nine hours a day, with almost one in five people working more than 60 hours a week.
So how realistic is it to work 30 hours a week? According to the CEO of Stockholm-based app developer Filimundus, “To stay focused on a specific 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.”
While the likelihood of this being rolled out across many businesses is highly improbable, people can try and scale back our hours, while ensuring that they are getting the job done. As Sweden continues to evaluate the effectiveness of a six-hour workday, here are five takeaways from the policy that can help everyone be more productive on the job.
1. Eliminate unnecessary distractions. The average person wastes 20 percent of all their time online on Facebook, while middle managers spend 35 percent of their time sitting in meetings. These unproductive discussions cost businesses more than $37 billion a year. Employees at Filimundus are asked to stay off social media and personal distractions, ensuring that they don’t waste valuable business hours.
2. Plan upfront. It’s not uncommon for projects to experience delays and overruns – in the IT industry, on average, large IT projects run over budget 45 percent of the time. While there are various reasons why a discrepancy could exist between project forecast and actuals – including team miscommunication, unclear objectives and shifting requirements – time and resource planning can help to minimize any inefficiencies.
3. Know what’s urgent – and what’s not. Sure, with a six-hour workday there could be times when something is needed and there is nobody left in the office, but that could also be true for the standard eight-hour workday. People should aim to focus on their immediate priorities (perhaps getting help from using one of these four popular techniques) so that they are not burning the midnight oil trying to accomplish activities that are less urgent or important.
4. Measure productivity, not just the hours. The CEO of Brath, another Swedish company that rolled out a six-hour workday wrote in a blog post that its employees are able to “produce more than similar companies do.” This has been measured by the company from the onset. Implement solutions and processes to understand productivity levels so that people focus on results, not on what time they arrive and leave the office.
5. Take time to reenergize. One of the obvious benefits of working 30 hours a week is that it gives back time to people to do what they please outside of the office. Filimundus’ CEO commented, “The biggest response that I couldn’t foresee was the energy level I felt with my colleagues. They were happy leaving the office and happy coming back the next day… That has also helped the work groups to work better together now.” Rather than letting work become physically or mentally draining, taking breaks can help people better communicate, collaborate and support the business’ goals.
While Sweden is still evaluating the impact of a six-hour workday, it’s interesting to identify the benefits from this change and how it can affect employee health, morale and productivity. Even if your business doesn’t introduce a shorter workweek, there are ways that companies can encourage greater efficiencies to support their workforce.