A few years ago, Sweden was in the headlines for experimenting with a six-hour workday. Fast forward to today and many more nations have since begun to give serious consideration to a shorter working day or week. This is all to promote a healthier work-life balance while still improving employee productivity.
The Scandinavian countries in particular have been at the forefront of this movement with some notable developments in the last few years. Keeping in line with their achievements as some of the happiest nations in the world, these countries have begun implementing shorter work periods for employees across different industries.
Why Are Countries Considering Shorter Working Days?
The standard working day for most countries across the world is eight hours with an upper limit of around 40 hours per week. This has been the standard since the Industrial Revolution. Since then, the world has advanced rapidly. Many new technologies have been developed with an aim to ease the workload, but the hours have never decreased. Instead of cutting down on the hours, it seems that there is more work than ever to fill those eight hours. In fact, in some countries, the average employee easily works for more than eight hours a day while the overall employee productivity levels remain low.
That is why it should not come as a surprise to know that there are countries looking to tackle this challenge of work less, produce more. The forerunners for this are, of course, the Scandinavian nations. It is not a secret that Scandinavian nations lead the rest of the world in work and life satisfaction.
- Finland has ranked as the world’s happiest country in 2021, for the fourth consecutive time.
- In 2020, Oslo, Norway, was ranked as the best city for work-life balance followed by Helsinki, Finland, and Copenhagen, Denmark, all of which are Scandinavian cities.
- Norway ranks as the second-most productive country in the world despite having the third-lowest average workweek at 38 hours per 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.”
There are certainly a number of benefits to be had with this approach.
- Work-Life Balance: A shorter working day enables employees to invest more time in other parts of their lives such as their families. Many workers in Stockholm take advantage of the flexibility in their work hours. They leave their office early to pick up their children from school, a task that many parents cannot perform in other countries.
- More Motivated and Efficient Workforce: A big advantage of a shorter working day is that employees tend to be more productive and efficient when they are at work. Since they have fewer hours to complete tasks, employees become more careful with how they spend those hours. Many studies have noted the increase in employee productivity as a result of shorter working hours.
- Fewer Leaves: A shorter working day does correspond to fewer leaves and time off due to sickness. Work-related stress levels drop, leading to a healthier workforce. Parents can spend more time with their children, requiring fewer leaves to do so. Employees can be more active, spend more time on hobbies or exercises, and do other activities that promote physical, mental, and emotional health.
How to Increase Employee Productivity While Reducing Hours
The Swedish work ethic has a lot to do with the success of a six-hour workday. Here are a few ideas that you might consider for a “work less, produce more” mentality, along with a few ideas from HR and productivity experts. While a shorter workday might not suit all industries and organizations, the following steps can still help in improving employee productivity.
Let’s face it, projects rarely stick to the specified timelines. Delays and overruns are not uncommon in many industries. The IT industry sees large projects exceed budgets 45 percent of the time on average. Discrepancies between estimates and actuals can exist for many reasons, such as unclear client requirements, miscommunication, shifting requirements and priorities, etc. However, they need not be taken for granted. With the right time and resource planning for projects, it is possible to reduce such inefficiencies and improve employee productivity.
Magda Klimkiewicz, HR Business Partner at Zety, an online resume business tool, suggests tapping into the power of a to-do list in order to plan ahead and keep employees on track. “The vast majority of people tend to take the push, push, push approach, and spend every ounce of their energy to tackle tasks as they appear, often haphazardly. As a result, productivity gets torpedoed, and stress levels go up. One of the main advantages of to-do lists is that they give us a sense of structure and a roadmap for the workday we can stick to, which reduces the potential anxiety associated with the chaos at work and elevates productivity.”
A robust time tracking platform will have a to-do list built in, allowing managers to easily provide this roadmap for employees to structure their day and meet daily requirements.
In a six-hour workday, it is possible that something urgent comes up but no one is there at the office to handle it. However, that also holds true for the standard eight-hour workday. Instead, employees must learn to prioritize and focus on the most important first. This will prevent them from working longer hours to complete less important tasks.
Jagoda Wieczorek, the head of HR at ResumeLab, uses the Pareto 80/20 principle as a time management technique. “The premise of this principle is that around 80 percent of your desired outcomes are as a result of 20 percent — or less — of your tasks and inputs. I try to focus on what’s most important in the day and put most of my effort into achieving that. Taking my time and doing the tasks that will give the greatest results are the priority.”
Get Rid of Distractions
On average, an employee spends 20 percent of their time on Facebook. Middle managers tend to spend 35 percent of their time in meetings. Unproductive activities and discussions like those can cost businesses over $37 billion per year if left unchecked. Many organizations have begun to take steps to reduce distractions like social media to ensure that their employees are not wasting valuable business time.
Automate Tasks to Reduce Admin Overheads
One of the biggest time sinks in any organization is tracking and calculating the time used. Organizations need to know how much time is being spent on billable and non-billable activities to ensure that they are driving maximum profitability from their workforce. Unfortunately, the general method of tracking time involves the use of paper records or spreadsheets, neither of which is very reliable. Apart from being prone to errors, they take a lot of time to verify and manage.
Why waste the valuable time of your employees on simply tracking time? Automate the entire process with a time tracking system. Start measuring your time at a granular level. Know exactly where your time is being spent. Free up the time of your admin team so that they can add to your organization by focusing on other activities instead of poring over timesheets. By letting time be captured easily and accurately, your other employees can also become free to be more productive and focus on other activities that benefit your organization’s bottom line.
Measure Productivity, Not Hours
Brath is another Swedish company that started a six-hour workday. In a blog post, Brath’s CEO noted that their employees could “produce more than similar companies do.” They backed this up by measuring the productivity levels right from the start. Organizations must strive to measure and understand their employee productivity and not just the hours they are putting in. Use solutions that enable people to focus on how they are spending their time instead of how much time they are spending.
Allow Employees to Recharge
As mentioned earlier, a major benefit of a shorter workday is that it gives employees more time to spend on their preferred activities outside of work. As the CEO of Filimundus noted, “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.” Let your employees take breaks instead of allowing work to drain them mentally and physically. Giving them time to recharge and rejuvenate allows better collaboration and communication, leading to increased support towards the organization’s goals.
Alexis Haselberger, a productivity, time management, and leadership coach, finds that in addition to breaks to recharge, having a specific stopping time each day can help employees as well.
“It doesn’t have to be the same time every day, but I’ve found that deciding, in advance, what time I’ll stop working on any given day helps me stay productive. When you pick a stopping time, you are applying the principle of Parkinson’s Law, which states that work expands to fill the time allotted. Picking a stopping time ensures that a) my work doesn’t bleed into all aspects of my life and b) that I’m more productive because I’ve given myself a defined period of time to get things done. I have a certain set of things I’m trying to accomplish on any given day, and now I am essentially trying to beat the clock, which kicks me into high gear.”
Ultimately, the choice lies with organizations to consider implementing shorter workdays. No matter which way they go, however, it remains a fact that the hours they have must be spent wisely and productively. Automating and digitizing your organization’s project time tracking is a smart way to reduce hours and increase productivity. Check out our ebook to learn more.