THE BLOG

It's a Myth: The Swedish Six-Hour Workday

14/10/2015 11:24 BST | Updated 12/10/2016 10:12 BST

Over the last few weeks I've read plenty of articles arguing that Sweden is moving to a six-hour workday. Many of the headlines make it sound as if the change has already taken place, but that is far from the case.

An article in The Guardian, which has been shared over 55,000 times, mentions that some organisations are experimenting with a six-hour workday. It's my guess that the rumours started here.

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Sweden was the home of the Vikings and now exports furniture and great music all over the world. Of course, as a Swede, I love the idea that we are starting the six-hour workday movement as well.

But for most people the six-hour workday is far from a reality, and the headlines in the newspapers are misleading. I'm very sorry to let you down and put the brakes on your plans to move to Sweden and join the crowd working six hours per day.

The articles refer to a case study of a Toyota service centre in Gothenburg, my home city, which has had a six-hour workday for over 13 years. Employees work fewer hours for the same wage as they would earn working eight hours and it's been very successful.

The story of Toyota's success is well-known, but it hasn't impressed policy-makers in Sweden. A lot of Swedish politicians have visited the Toyota site, as have many CEOs and business leaders. They are still not convinced though.

Working full-time in Sweden means an eight-hour workday, so working 40 hours per work. Everyone I know in Sweden works eight hours per day if they are in full-time employment.

It's only the Swedish Left Party that has the six-hour workday as part of its manifesto. The other major parties, the Social Democrats and the Conservatives, are still sceptical.

That we should work 40 hours per week is a legacy from the Industrial Age. Back then, about 250 years ago, you could work very long hours if you worked in a factory so to make work manageable it was regulated to last about eight hours per day. You can read more about the 8-hour workday movement here.

What's needed is a new way of thinking about work, energy, life and what gives you 'status'. It's very hard to make the life puzzle work out when we are stuck in an old fashioned mind-set.

Here are eight ideas about modern work values that would improve work processes in most countries, in no particular order.

  1. Stop giving workaholics high status in the workplace.
  2. Embrace new technology and use it wisely.
  3. Harness all of the creativity you have in your organisation.
  4. Support a working climate that encourages people to share knowledge.
  5. Embrace equality and I'm sure you will find more talent in your organisation.
  6. Make it possible for people to work from home for part of the week if they're in an office-based job.
  7. Avoid ineffective and too many meetings. Poorly managed and executed meetings must be one of the biggest time-wasters in the world.
  8. Think more about energy management instead of time management. Some tasks are easy, others are more complex and require more energy. If you have used up most of your energy performing a complicated task you should be allowed to leave a bit early that day.

And a final message to all organisations around the world that would like to try out a six-hour workday please go ahead. Be courageous and dare to try it. Whatever the outcome I'm sure you'll learn a lot in the process.

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Thank you! Sofie

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