A six-hour workday experiment in Sweden ended this week, resulting in positive results — healthier and more productive employees — but a tepid response from many, including the government, due to its high price tag.
The two-year trial took place at a municipal retirement home in Gothenburg, a southern city in Sweden. Employees had their workday shortened from eight to six hours and received the same pay. To make up for the lost time, seventeen new positions were created, which cost the equivalent of around $738,000. Employees reported being more productive, having more energy and getting sick less. The same review found that, in the control trial at a different municipal retirement home, employees reported higher blood pressure and “perceived no improvement in their health, peace of mind or alertness.”
Daniel Bernmar, leader of the Left party on Gothenburg’s City Council and a major proponent of the shorter workday, lauded the benefits, specifically citing a “healthier staff, a better work environment and lower unemployment.” However opponents, such as conservative parties on the Gothenburg City Council, reiterate the price tag as the major downfall, underscoring that taxpayers would shoulder the high cost.
“The government is avoiding talking about the issue,” Bernmar told the New York Times. “They’re not interested in looking at the bigger picture.” Bernmar suggests that the high costs can be framed more optimistically: the 22 percent increase to pay for new employees was offset by around 10 percent from reduced costs to the state, a result of less people being unemployed and paying taxes in lieu of receiving state subsidies.
Other models, in Sweden and elsewhere, have also faced opposition primarily based on the high price of implementation. And while longstanding programs of a similar nature, such as France’s mandatory 35-hour workweek, may be threatened by a changing political landscape, major companies such as Amazon, Google and Deloitte have begun experiments in compressing the workweek.
Bernmar told the New York Times that the major challenge is not the price tag, but a resistance to changing policy, and a failure for policy makers to seriously examine the link between shorter workweeks and happier, healthier workers: “Should we work to live, not live to work?”
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Originally published at journal.thriveglobal.com