Oct 15, 2015

In America, we take the fewest vacation days of any developed nation, work more than 40 hours a week on average, and 28 percent of that time is spent just dealing with emails.

We’re spending less time with our families and fewer hours on leisure, and it’s affecting our health and our productivity in a lot of ways, none of them good.

But if Swedish SEO company Brath had their way, we’d all be working less — and getting a lot more done while we do it. For the last few years the small 20-employee firm based in Scandinavia has been experimenting with six-hour workdays, and doubling its profits annually ever since.

Great benefits

In a blog written by Brath’s CEO, he explains that by getting everyone on the same page and altering their workplace habits slightly in a group effort, they were able to maintain and even exceed their previous output, keeping excellent pace with their eight-hour day competitors. Additionally:

  • Recruiting is a snap – How do you counter a six-hour workday? In a lot of ways you can’t, and that gives Brath an enormous edge in recruiting. “While our competitors write that they have an inspiring workplace, play rooms or free sodas,” the CEO writes, “we don’t even have to write ads.”
  • Employees are engaged – Gigantic benefits beget gigantic loyalty, and Brath’s CEO has seen the results. “…once you’ve gotten used to having time for the family, picking up the kids at day care, spending time training for a race or simply just cooking good food at home, you don’t want to lose that again,” he explains. “We believe that this is a good reason to stay with us.”
  • Employees are more productive – Brath’s employees are engaged and energized from better sleep and leisure, and have learned to concentrate their efforts as a team, producing more than similar companies do in a normal workday. “We believe nobody can be creative and productive in 8 hours straight,” the CEO says. “Six hours is more reasonable, even though we too, of course, check Facebook or the news at times.”

Lost in translation

When Brath’s CEO blog was first posted, something was lost in translation that led bloggers and news outlets to purport that the entire country of Sweden was shifting to a six-hour work day, heralding it as the coming of a new age of worker satisfaction.

However, an eagle-eyed bilingual political blogger named Lilja Tamminen threw a wrench into the hype machine.

Lilja explained in her blog that while Brath isn’t the only Swedish company on the six-hour schedule (Swedish Toyota service centers switched over a decade ago, and other smaller tech companies more recently), the six percent minority Left Party are its only supporters in Parliament, and although it’s being talked about, for now it’s a fringe issue.

The U.S. and UK’s overreaction to the story is a good example of how you should always consider the source of your news, but beyond that it shows how much we’re all thinking about the hours we work, and how prevalent our national fantasy of a shorter work week has become.

Short orders

However, the fantasy is slowly becoming reality. The benefits of shortened work schedules are no doubt alluring, least of all because of the cost savings, and there are several American companies giving it a go.

Treehouse Inc., an online education company, switched to a four-day work week and saw their revenue increase 120 percent. Several public high schools are also experimenting with four-day school weeks in an effort to increase quality of service while simultaneously curbing costs.

Then there are the smaller tech startups like Reusser Design and Basecamp where the nature of the work makes it easy to offer a three-day weekend benefit.

True benefit

Sweden may not be making a nationwide shift to six-hour days, but the few Swedish companies who have are providing the rest of us valuable data on the effectiveness of a shortened work schedule, and opening a dialogue on the number of hours we’re spending at work, and whether or not it truly benefits anyone.

Don’t you think it’s time we started doing more with less?

This was originally published on the Michael C. Fina blog.

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