The city government in Gothenburg is about to embark on an interesting experiment, asking one set of workers to work only six hours a day, while another set of their colleagues will continue to work the standard seven, reports Fast Company. The idea is to test whether shorter workdays can increase productivity, decrease absenteeism, and maybe even boost job creation too.
"We'll compare the two afterwards and see how they differ," Mat Pilhem, the Left Party deputy mayor of Gothenburg, told The Local. "We hope to get the staff members taking fewer sick days and feeling better mentally and physically after they've worked shorter days."
The Fast Company report references statistics that show workers in OECD countries experiencing declines in productivity, the longer they work. But whether such statistics translate into direct productivity gains when hours are cut remains to be seen.
The Swedes have experimented with such ideas in the past, with the Kiruna district council previously running a 16 -year experiment into comparing workers' hours to their productivity. The study concluded in 2005 with researchers unable to demonstrate direct benefits, partially because of increased costs in hiring more temporary workers, and partially because of resentment between teams asked to work full hours and those working reduced time.
Ultimately, it seems hard to imagine that any single study will validate or disprove the notion that fewer work hours will mean more work done. As someone who has gone from a five-day week to a four-day week, I can testify that less time does tend to focus the mind — for me at least — meaning more work done in fewer hours. But a voluntary, autonomous move to fewer hours is quite different to one mandated from bosses or government.
Perhaps the real solution is to focus on results, not hours, allowing each employee to choose their own schedule. Well that, and remembering that productivity isn't the sole purpose of being alive. There, at least, the Scandinavians seem to be a step ahead.
Although the guy from the controversial Cadillac ELR ad might disagree...
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