The 6 hour work day or the 4 day working week are fairly new concepts. Sweden began trialling the 6 hour work day back in 2017. The 4 day working week is slightly newer with Microsoft Japan trialling the idea in August 2019; although they are by no means the only ones giving it a go. It also appeared on the Labour party manifesto in 2019. The idea behind this change in the way we work is to maximize productivity whilst boosting both the physical and mental health of employees.
6 Hour Work Day
The 6 hour work day does what it says on the tin. The theory behind it is that the 8 hour work day simply wastes time. Many of us will be familiar with the fact that our motivation will dip and wane throughout the day. Above and beyond that our attention will often switch between meetings and emails and other work requirements making it hard to focus. These factors accumulate to mean that whilst we may ‘work’ for 8 hours a day we don’t actually do that much work.
Behind the 6 hour work day is the idea that working less time can actually make us more productive. As counter-intuitive as that may seem. With less hours in the day we may be driven to be more productive and to lessen our distractions. The Pareto principle states that 20% of our work generates 80% of value. If we channel this method and maximize our time effectively we can do just as I suggested. Get more work done in less time.
4 Day Working Week
The 4 day working week works on largely the same principle. Although it will vary from company to company. In some organisations, less working hours will mean less hours at work. In other places, a 4 day work week may mean a few more hours distributed throughout the week to make up for some (although not all) hours missed on the day-off. Likewise the day of the week may be the same for everyone and in other places you may be able to choose. There’s a lot to play for here.
Despite the variety in how it might work the premise is the same. Companies that have adopted these principles have found that efficiency and productivity have increased across their companies. Microsoft Japan found the change in working hours increased productivity by 40% and employees took 25% less time off. Before Microsoft Japan, a New Zealand company called Perpetual Guardian also trialled the idea. They found that their employees reported a better work/life balance and staff stress levels decreased by 7% (click here for stress management ideas).
There seems to be a persuasive economic argument. Research suggests that companies adopting a 4 day working week saved on average £92 billion each year. Further research suggests that the shorter working week can have a knock on affect on the wider economy. With less time spent at work people will spend more time and often money on leisure activities including shopping or visiting restaurants and other smaller, local businesses.
The case for a shorter working week or a shorter work day seem persuasive. The evidence that working less hours can actually boost productivity is supported by the fact that countries, such as Norway and Denmark, are some of the most productive countries in the world and work on average a 27-hour work week.
Likewise, having employees committed to working less hours increases the work/life balance. This allows people to spend more time with family, engage in hobbies, take exercise opportunities and learn new skills. All of these things are great for both our physical and mental health. This also explains why companies trialling shorter working hours found that levels of both absenteeism and presenteeism declined. When staff have time to look after themselves and boost their wellbeing they are less likely to take time off. They’re also less like to turn up at work when they are ill which not only risks spreading sickness across the office but impacts overall productivity. We simply don’t work as effectively when we are sick.
It seems that a 6 hour working day or 4 day working week isn’t the fairytale it seems. At least, in that less working hours appears to have a happy ending across the board. Having said that, I imagine it will stay in fairytale territory a while longer before it becomes reality.
What are your thoughts on 6 hour working day or 4 hour work week? Are you interested in the concept? Do you think you would find it helpful?