• Sweden edition
 
Could six-hour work days really work in Sweden?

Could six-hour work days really work in Sweden?

Published: 30 May 2014 00:46 GMT+02:00

 
Robert Nilsson, a 25-year-old mechanic in Sweden's second city Gothenburg, may be the harbinger of a future where people work less and still enjoy a high standard of living.
   
He gets out of bed at the same time as everyone else, but instead of rushing to work, he takes it easy, goes for a jog, enjoys his breakfast, and doesn't arrive at his Toyota workshop until noon, only to punch out again at 6:00 pm.
   
"My friends hate me. Most of them think because I work six hours, I shouldn't be paid for eight," Nilsson said, talking while fitting part of a rear window onto a Toyota Prius with swift, expert moves.
   
Sweden often stuns first-time visitors with its laid-back prosperity, making foreigners wonder how it is possible to have both lots of money and lots of leisure.
   
Part of the answer, according to economists, is a productive and well-educated workforce that adapts to new technologies quicker than most.
   
Exactly how much -- or how little -- Swedes work compared with other nations is a somewhat open question.
   
"We have a 40-hour work week, but also we have a little more absence than many people and we start work late in life because we study longer," said Malin Sahlen, an analyst at Timbro, a libertarian Stockholm-based think tank.
   
In 2012, the average Swede worked a total of 1,621 hours, according to the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
   
This is more than the Netherlands with 1,381 hours, but less than Britain with 1,654 hours or the United States with 1,790 hours - and way below Chile's 2,029 and Mexico's 2,226 hours.
   
"We could work more, that's a fact," said Sahlen.
 
- Less is more -
 
But far from looking to increase time spent at work, some in Sweden are out to prove that less is more and that cutting hours can boost productivity.
   
In an international productivity ranking by the Conference Board, a non-profit business research organisation, Sweden was already placed close to the top, coming 11th out of 61 countries.
   
The United States was third, the Netherlands number five, and Britain number 13, whereas Chile and Mexico were both in the bottom third.
   
Now, the Social Democrat-led city government in Gothenburg is planning to test the impact of shorter hours on productivity, in an experiment beginning on July 1st.
 
   
One group of government workers in the elderly care sector are to work six hours a day, while another will work the eight they are used to.
   
After a year, the municipal government will analyse the results and decide whether the six-hour day brings enough savings -- in the form of fewer sick days for instance -- that it warrants becoming permanent and extended to other sectors.
   
So far, the plan is limited to the civil service, but city councillor Mats Pilhem of the Left Party is convinced that all of Sweden is headed towards a shorter work day.
   
"People have long work lives, and it's necessary to think of ways to create a more humane environment for them in the workplace," he said.
 
- 'Crazy idea' -
 
Critics like Timbro's Sahlen warn the math does not add up in terms of the wider economy, saying it would be far too expensive to make a large part of the labour force work 25 percent less -- for the same pay.
   
"I think it's a crazy idea and I don't think it's going to be reality either," she said.
   
Opponents say shorter workweeks have been experimented across Europe -- 35 hours in France and Germany, an average of 30 hours in the Netherlands -- to mixed economic results.
   
"It's the kind of populist and socialist policy that's very dangerous for the economy, and we shouldn't go through with it," warned Maria Ryden, a member of Gothenburg city council for the centre-right Moderates, which oppose the plans.
   
"We're capable of working more."
   
But proponents of cutting the workday point at short term benefits in the form of fewer sick days, and greater efficiency at work due to fewer breaks.
   
And they argue greater savings will come in the long run, with a workforce that is less exhausted and therefore more productive as it approaches retirement.
 
- 'Saw the results' -
 
Left-wing councillor Pilhem says the concept has already proven its merits -- at mechanic Nilsson's workplace, Toyota.
   
Toyota's Gothenburg branch introduced the six-hour day in 2002 to make its facilities more efficient by having two shifts, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, instead of a single, longer one.
   
Nilsson confirms that in his experience a six-hour day -- paid as much as eight -- is more efficient because it requires fewer breaks.
   
"Every time you have a break, it takes 10 to 15 minutes to get back to work, because you have to see where you were when you left off," he said.
   
That efficiency is reflected in the salary, as the Toyota workshop pays technicians like Nilsson 29,700 Swedish kronor ($4,510) a month, well above the 25,100 kronor ($3,810) national average for workers in the private sector.
   
"It was a huge success straight away," said Toyota service centre manager Elisabeth Jonsson.
   
"We saw the results, and everything was working for the staff, for the company, for the customers, so I don't think we ever had any discussion about putting an end to it."

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Swedish Honeymoon Killing
Honeymoon suspect seeks instant aquittal
Murder suspect Shrien Dewani. Photo: TT

Honeymoon suspect seeks instant aquittal

A British millionaire businessman, Shrien Dewani, has argued that he should be cleared of the honeymoon murder of his bride because South African prosecutors have failed to prove their case. READ  

Snow forecast for north as capital enjoys sun
Stockholmers enjoying the November weekend sun. Photo: The Local

Snow forecast for north as capital enjoys sun

The Swedish Meteorological Institute has issued a class one warning following snowstorms in northern Sweden, but there is better news for Stockholmers who enjoyed sunshine over the weekend and can expect more good weather towards the end of this week. READ  

'Racist' Black Pete party scrapped in Sweden
A festive parade involving Zwarte Piet helpers in the Netherlands. Photo: TT

'Racist' Black Pete party scrapped in Sweden

A Dutch club in Stockholm that was planning a festive party featuring Santa alongside a servant with a black painted face has shelved the idea following numerous complaints of racism. READ  

Ebola crisis
Swedish expert says Ebola risk has reduced
Many in Liberia have little but chlorine to protect themselves from Ebola. Photo:TT

Swedish expert says Ebola risk has reduced

A leading Swedish expert on global health has said that the threat of the Ebola virus has decreased and suggested that the battle against the epidemic is entering a new phase. READ  

Presented by Regus
Get your own office anywhere in the world

Get your own office anywhere in the world

Sweden’s startup scene is booming – making central office space in Stockholm and Gothenburg even harder to find. So where does a new small business set up shop? Two seasoned entrepreneurs share their secret with The Local. READ  

Submarine hunt
Three in four Swedes believe submarine 'proof'
An enlarged look at the mystery sighting of a suspected submarine in the Stockholm archipelago in October. Photo: TT

Three in four Swedes believe submarine 'proof'

A new survey has revealed that 75 percent of Swedes trust that the Swedish military did find enough evidence to prove that a foreign submarine was present in the Stockholm archipelago last month. The results contrast with a more sceptical public during previous submarine incidents in the 1980s. READ  

Thirty Swedes in Turkish resort bus crash
A resort in Antalya, close to where the crash happened. Photo: Shutterstock

Thirty Swedes in Turkish resort bus crash

Up to thirty Swedish tourists were caught up in an accident involving two buses near the resort of Antalya in Turkey on Sunday afternoon, with ten taken to hospital after the crash. READ  

Nursery burned down in southern Stockholm
A Swedish firefighter. Photo: TT

Nursery burned down in southern Stockholm

A fire has destroyed a preschool in southern Stockholm overnight, with firefighters unable to contain the flames because of heavy winds. READ  

My Swedish Career
'I'm spreading Japan's 'cute' culture in Sweden'
Carolynn Piittisjärvi (right) together with business partner Eva Dejmo in their pop up store. Photo: Private

'I'm spreading Japan's 'cute' culture in Sweden'

For this week’s My Swedish Career we meet American Carolynn Piittisjärvi, an entrepreneur who has already managed to turn several hobbies into Swedish businesses. She has just launched a store selling Japanese clothes, toys and stationary in the hope of spreading ‘kawaii’. READ  

Swede Stenson defends DP World Tour title
Photo: TT/AP

Swede Stenson defends DP World Tour title

Sweden's Henrik Stenson made two birdies on the final two holes to successfully defended his title at the $8 million DP World Tour Championship on Sunday by two shots. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Imagebank Sweden
Society
Decorating your home for Swedish Christmas
Gallery
People-watching: November 22nd - 23rd
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Family life in Stockholm
Society
What's on in Sweden: November 20th to 27th
Lifestyle
How to make Swedish mulled wine
Blog updates

21 November

Exclusive Interview with Abba’s Bjorn Ulvaeus (Stockholm in my American Heart) »

"Most of us will agree that actions speak louder than words. But when the two are..." READ »

 

21 November

Editor’s Blog, November 21st (The Local Sweden) »

"Hello from Stockholm, Our week started with reports another Russian plane had been spotted in Sweden’s airspace,..." READ »

 
 
 
National
How to boost your career in Skåne, Sweden's south
Lifestyle
How an Umeå museum is rewriting Swedish history
National
Timeline: Julian Assange sex allegations
Lifestyle
Five unique backpacker hostels in Stockholm
National
Bones show off Sweden's history
National
What new word are Swedes voting on?
National
Why African Swedes are angry about Santa's helper
National
Pine, tar, and tinder: flavours from the north
Gallery
Selfies, solidarity and Hillary Clinton: Stefan Löfven on tour
Gallery
People-watching: November 19th
Society
Why are international professionals leaving Sweden?
Business & Money
Meet the Swedes who made suits for The Hunger Games
Technology
'I'm among the first Swedes with a microchip'
National
What is Sweden doing about bird flu?
Gallery
Property of the week: Eriksberg
National
Vecka45: Sweden's most innovative week
Gallery
In Pictures: The clubs and loves of Sweden's Sven-Göran Eriksson
Society
What's On in Sweden: November 13th to 20th
Gallery
People-watching: November 16th
National
Driving (expats) home for Christmas?
Lifestyle
Make your own Swedish pea soup
Politics
"Totally unacceptable": Defence Minister on Stockholm submarine
Society
The A-Ö guide to making life in Sweden easier
National
How a Swedish party inspired a masterpiece
National
Seen the new Ace of Base yet?
National
Meet the Irish woman thundering into Swedish rock
Gallery
In Pictures: Ace of Base through the years
Society
Ten things you should never say to a Swede
Gallery
People-watching: November 12th
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
National
Opinion: 'We have to talk about Sweden's Isis fighters'
Business & Money
Price hike for new mortgages in Sweden
National
Toy store catalogues 'too white' in Sweden
National
Pirate Bay co-founder released from prison
National
Southern Sweden had 201 days of summer
Gallery
Sweden's ten most powerful people
Gallery
Property of the week: Mariestad
National
Introducing... Healthcare in Stockholm
National
What you need to know about Stockholm hospital bug epidemic
Sponsored Article
The best options for oversea transfers
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

802
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
aa-europe.org/sweden
The Local Spain is hiring!
The Local is seeking a new editor for our site in Spain to join our growing team of internationally-minded, driven, ambitious and clued-up journalists
Click here for the full job description