Sweden has just announced a step in the right direction for employees all over the country: a six-hour working day.
However in Australia we’re going in exactly the opposite direction with Aussies working six hours of unpaid overtime every single week.
It seems unlikely that Australian employers would consider the change, yet businesses in the Scandinavian country are already implementing the changes. Known for its family friendly policies, the Swedes say that the theory of the six-hour work day is that employees are more productive and focused at their jobs. They also have more time to spend with family and home, or doing activities that they enjoy.
Some companies had already made the switch to the six-hour work day as early as last year. A Stokholm based app developer called Filimundus moved to the six-hour day last year and didn’t have any plans to change. Their CEO Linus Feldt notes:
“We want to spend more time with our families, we want to learn new things or exercise more. I wanted to see if there could be a way to mix these things.”
Feldt reported that his employees were just as productive as they had been before the change, and that workplace conflicts were much lower as people were more happier and better rested. It’s a forward thinking move that shows employees they’re valued for the amount of work they put in, not just for the amount of hours they show up.
So What About Australia?
Unfortunately in Australia we seem to be heading away from a work-life balance. A study conducted in 2014 found that the average full time worker should be getting an extra $9,471 every year for the overtime they’re working for free. The study also uncovered that many workers were afraid of ‘rocking the boat’ and worried that their positions would not be secure if they tried to stand for their rights as workers, and the hours they wanted to work.
Problematically, these kind of work environments don’t make for happy employees. In fact, longer working hours contribute to higher levels of depression and anxiety among Australian workers, which should be enough to motivate a change. It’s not just workers who are suffering in Australia either. By working longer hours it is accepted that people tend to burn out of jobs faster, leaving them less engaged and productive, and more likely to leave their employment.
Could It Happen?
In Australia experts agree that if a shorter work day was to be introduced the business community would need to be full supporters.
Professor Peter Gahan, the director of Melbourne University’s centre for workplace leadership, said that a review of the Fair Work Act was probably in order, and it would need to include an examination of the different working arrangements in the new economy.
However when it comes to the benefits, there should be more than enough to get people on board. As well as happier employees, equal productivity, and overall satisfied workplaces, Australians on a shorter work day might live longer. This information comes from a study of 600,000 Australians over almost 9 years that found those who worked 55 hours a week were 33% more likely to have a stroke than those who worked a 35-40 hour week.
This isn’t an impossible idea, it’s something that has been implemented in countries like Sweden with a great rate of success, and it’s something that Australia could certainly use.