• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Could six-hour work days really work in Sweden?

AFP · 30 May 2014, 00:46

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.
Story continues below…
   
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
Why this Swedish restaurant is launching a dog menu
Forget ice cream, hungry Swedish dogs can now drink beefy beer. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

A Gothenburg eatery has unveiled a menu specially designed for dogs in an effort to attract new customers.

How the Swedish Church used taxes to fund lavish trips
File photo of a Swedish priest. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

A trip to Malta for 99 people was among those funded by the church coffers.

Stockholm couple crash car during rowdy romp
Never forget to put the handbrake on. Photo: YB Södermalm

A pair of hapless Stockholm lovers decide to get intimate in their car on Monday, but it was all downhill from there.

Why Sweden is now the EU's most competitive economy
Sweden has been ranked as the EU's most competitive economy. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

It's beating European giants such as Germany and the United Kingdom by miles, according to a key global ranking.

Is this the best cafe in Sweden to grab a fika?
Annas Hembageri in Mariefred. Photo: Sofia Marcetic/TT

Fill up the coffee cup and help yourself to a 'kanelbulle'. This is Sweden's best café according to food experts.

Poll shows cost of spring crisis for Swedish government
Swedish PM Stefan Löfven and Deputy PM Isabella Lövin at a cabinet reshuffle in May. Photo: Erik Nylander/TT

The survey suggests the current Swedish government would not receive the largest share of votes if an election were held in May.

Presented by Malmö Town
How Malmö is becoming the next hub for foodies
A dish at Malmö restaurant Bord13. Photo: Gustav Arnetz

When you think Malmö, do you think cheap falafel? Think again.

Fewer than 500 of 163,000 asylum seekers found jobs
Migration offices in Sweden. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT

Of almost 163,000 people who applied for asylum in Sweden last year, fewer than 500 landed a job, according to a new report.

Opinion
The eight ingredients that created the Swedish model
Where did the Swedish model begin? Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT

What is the Swedish model and who invented it? Thinktank chairman Anders Källström presents the eight reasons behind Sweden's success.

Sweden lack fire without Zlatan in Slovenian stalemate
Sweden coach Erik Hamrén. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

But who are the other players who got a chance to shine ahead of the Euro 2016?

Sponsored Article
Why Stockholm attracts so many successful researchers
Gallery
Property of the week: Mariestad
Sponsored Article
Stockholm makes it easier for refugees to meet startups
National
How this Swede was turned down for a job because of her head scarf
National
Swedish police trial use of taser guns
Blog updates

27 May

Editor’s blog, May 27th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hej readers, Would you spend a day doing manual labour in high heels? That’s what Swedish…" READ »

 

17 May

What about “att”? (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! It often seems like the small words are the ones that cause the most confusion.…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
'Only soft power can defeat radicalism'
National
'Sweden would not be able to defend Gotland'
Sponsored Article
Eat, learn, live: unforgettable holidays in France
Gallery
People-watching: May 27th-29th
National
First migrants make it from Denmark to Sweden on foot
Gallery
The best, cutest and funniest snaps from Prince Oscar's christening
Sponsored Article
'Sweden gives artists the space to follow their dreams'
Travel
Is this town the best place in Sweden?
Sponsored Article
'A sustainable Sweden must embrace diversity'
Gallery
People-watching: May 25th
Society
WATCH: Why Swedish handyman wore pink high heels for feminism
Sponsored Article
How to find student housing in Malmö: 5 tips
Sport
LIST: Top-ten ridiculous things Zlatan has compared himself to
Sponsored Article
Can you afford to live in Stockholm? (Hint: yes)
Business & Money
Why Swedes don't want the euro
Fastighetsbyrån
Gallery
Property of the week: Vika, Falun
Sponsored Article
Food, fun, and reliable sun: Summer in Dubrovnik
National
Is this the most Swedish tattoo ever?
Sponsored Article
How Stockholm startups help new employees feel at home
Gallery
People-watching: May 20th-22nd
Sponsored Article
VIDEO: Why Malmö is the world's 6th best city for biking
National
How to really annoy a Swede abroad
Sponsored Article
'Sweden gives artists the space to follow their dreams'
National
How this war veteran is warming hearts in Sweden
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
Gallery
People-watching: May 18th
Sponsored Article
Can you afford to live in Stockholm? (Hint: yes)
National
How this Swede's viral ad totally nailed Stockholm's housing crisis
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Gallery
Property of the week: Vasastaden, Gothenburg
Sponsored Article
Stockholm makes it easier for refugees to meet startups
Lifestyle
The best Swedish cities for dating
Gallery
People-watching: May 13th-15th
Culture
BLOG: Eurovision as it happened
3,326
jobs available
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