​Why a six-hour workday is getting a test in Sweden

If you're feeling overworked -- a common complaint among American workers -- you might want to keep tabs on a workplace experiment taking place in Sweden.

The city of Gothenburg is testing a six-hour workday in an unusual trial: A test group of municipal workers will cut down their day to six hours while the rest of the town's workers will stick to the typical eight-hour day, according to the Swedish publication The Local. Pay will remain the same for those cutting their hours back.

The reason? The city wants to test whether reducing the workday will actually improve efficiency, cut sick leave and ultimately result in saving money. While Americans might scoff at the experiment as another example of how Europeans coddle their workers, the current standard 8-hour workday wasn't a given in the U.S.: It was hard-won by unions in the 19th century and eventually standardized by the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938. Before that, workers were expected at their jobs for 10 to 16 hours a day.

There's some research to show that some workers perform better with even shorter workdays. Knowledge workers -- anyone from software developers to teachers -- actually have about six productive hours per day, compared with eight for manual laborers, according to Salon. And that's what Gothenburg hopes to find out: Do workers end up performing better if they're able to focus their efforts in a potentially optimal daily work period?

"We'll compare the two afterwards and see how they differ. We hope to get the staff members taking fewer sick days and feeling better mentally and physically after they've worked shorter days," Mats Pilhem, the deputy mayor of Gothenburg, told the Local.

For American workers, the six-hour day may seem increasingly like an unrealistic goal, given that employees are actually now putting in eight hours-plus each day. The average employed American between 25 to 54 years old and with children works almost 9 hours each day, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

To top it off, while U.S. workers are pulling more hours and becoming more productive, wages have fallen off for many. From 2000 to 2013, hourly wages for a majority of Americans either fallen or flatlined, according to a study published Wednesday by the Economic Policy Institute.

Still, not everyone in Sweden is convinced the test is a good idea. Malin Sahlen, an analyst at the Swedish think tank Timbro, told the AFP that the plan is "a crazy idea" because it would be too expensive to pay the workforce the same while cutting hours by one-quarter.

Robert Nilsson, a Gothenburg city mechanic who is taking part in the test, told the AFP that his new experimental 6-hour day has caused some friction with friends.

Nilsson noted, "My friends hate me. Most of them think because I work six hours, I shouldn't be paid for eight."

  • Aimee Picchi

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