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Don’t wait any longer, don’t let life pass you by.
by Stefan Sirucek
Working eight hours a day and 40 hours a week is ingrained in us as the natural division and duration of a good, honest American work week. We take it for granted. And it’s nonsense.
Much like the two-day weekend, the eight-hour work day was a safeguard won by the labor movement to protect workers from being driven into the ground by inhumane workdays of up to 16 hours. The eight hour work day was meant to be a limit, not a goal. And certainly not an ideal.
Now, in the interest of human progress and well-being, a retirement home in Sweden is testing out six-hour work days for employees. Other businesses are taking notice. The nurses at Svartedalens care home in Gothenburg reduced their workdays from eight to six hours in February, with the same pay.
The result? Happy, energetic nurses.
Interviewed by the Guardian, an assistant nurse named Lise-Lotte Pettersson said the following:
“I used to be exhausted all the time, I would come home from work and pass out on the sofa. But not now. I am much more alert: I have much more energy for my work, and also for family life.”
Now what does this mean for employers? Naturally costs go up. The nursing home hired 14 new staff members to cover the missing hours. On the other hand they created 14 new jobs and several other hospitals in Sweden have now followed suit. Vitally, the nurses say the quality of care they’re able to provide has gone up along with morale.
Healthcare in Sweden is largely publicly funded, so what about private businesses? Surely they balk at the thought of this employee-coddling, right? Nope. In fact for some private businesses in Sweden the six-hour workday is old news and has proven popular among employees and customers alike.
“At Toyota service centres in Gothenburg, working hours have been shorter for more than a decade. Employees moved to a six-hour day 13 years ago and have never looked back. Customers were unhappy with long waiting times, while staff were stressed and making mistakes, according to Martin Banck, the managing director, whose idea it was to cut the time worked by his mechanics.”
It’s the type of win-win, pro-labor scenario that will leave American-bred conservatives – who often oppose even a minimum wage – foaming at the mouth and ranting about lazy, sandal-wearing liberals even while the real world results negate their arguments. According to those actually using it, the six-hour system works like a charm.
“Staff feel better, there is low turnover and it is easier to recruit new people,” Banck says. “They have a shorter travel time to work, there is more efficient use of the machines and lower capital costs – everyone is happy.” Profits have risen by 25%, he adds.
According to Ann-Charlotte Dahlbom Larsson, a senior staff member at the Svartedalens nursing home, the previous system of loading a small pool of employees with increasingly more work wasn’t working for anyone.
“Since the 1990s we have had more work and fewer people – we can’t do it any more,” she says. “There is a lot of illness and depression among staff in the care sector because of exhaustion – the lack of balance between work and life is not good for anyone.”
Gothenburg’s government has recently swung more to the right, so there’s sadly a good chance conservatives will undo the six-hour nursing home experiment next year. But private businesses who’ve employed the practice for years will doubtlessly keep right on shaving off those extra two hours and their happy employees will thank them for it. Again, eight hours was never the goal. It was meant as a stepping stone. We can do better. We can do less.
Now listen to Roland Paulsen, another reasonable Swede, and a researcher at the University of Lund, talk some sense, and don’t stop believing.
“For a long time politicians have been competing to say we must create more jobs with longer hours – work has become an end in itself,” he says. “But productivity has doubled since the 1970s, so technically we even have the potential for a four-hour working day. It is a question of how these productivity gains are distributed. It did not used to be utopian to cut working hours – we have done this before.”
Amen, Comrade. It’s a beautiful thought. Now let’s all cut out at three.