6 Hour Work Day Fairytale: Too Good to Be True?

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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.

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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 Verdict

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?

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15 thoughts on “6 Hour Work Day Fairytale: Too Good to Be True?

  1. I personally think that it is a great idea. It would definitely help with burnout, and it would give you more of an opportunity to enjoy your actual life. Working long hours then coming home with just enough time to clean, eat, and go to bed is not really a life at all.

    1. Work/life balance is so important and it would be nice to end the day with time to do something before bed. I swear some weeks I feel like I go to work, come home, sleep and start again!

  2. I’m really hoping that the Coronavirus has proven we don’t need to be stuck in offices 9-5, 5 days a week because it is possible to be productive in a more flexible working pattern. Hugely supportive of both these theories, it’s a shame our government seem to be among the ones who think it is a ‘fairytale’

    1. Yes! Hopefully we can learn from this I’ve always been a fan of more flexible working. I sometimes work evenings and weekends so shorten my working day that way and it’s so nice to end early!

  3. Thank you for sharing! I didn’t know about the 6 hour working day – it sounds like it would help with increasing productivity as I work until 5 and switch off mentally after 3PM. I don’t understand how they expect people to work at a computer for 8 hours a day. X

    1. I’ve definitely noticed dips in my motivation during the day. I reckon I’d get more done if I worked in the hours I was productive only!

  4. I work 4 days per week but I do 10-hour shifts. I much prefer working longer for an extra day off. The way it usually works is I work 4 days and then get 4 days off, which gives me a much better work/life balance and I think it should be more common, it would work out so much better for so many people depending on their circumstances!

  5. Very interesting post! I definitely agree that working less hours in the week can boost your productivity. I have been in jobs where I worked around 30 hours and I was feeling much more productive and energetic than my 40-hour normal work week. I hope that more countries will implement this in the future.

  6. I work somewhere with a pretty relaxed, progressive culture where people are able to work flexibly and work from home a couple of times a week. It makes such a difference to wellbeing and performance if you do it right. It seems like such an old fashioned concept to expect people to sit at their desks for eight hours a day and, as you say, it’s not necessarily getting the most out of them. I’m very much in favour of the four day week and six hour day!

  7. I absolutely think this is a great idea. Unfortunately I don’t see the United States going for this anytime soon, despite the growing evidence in support of it. For some reason our country doesn’t prioritize time off. My current job only offered one week of vacation a year, and that never increases. So sad.

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