每日跟讀#520: In Sweden, Happiness in a Shorter Workday Can't Overcome the Cost
A controversial experiment with a six-hour workday in one of Sweden’s largest cities wrapped up this week with a cheerful conclusion: Shorter working hours make for happier, healthier and more productive employees.
There’s just one catch. The practice is too expensive and unwieldy to become widespread in Sweden anytime soon.
The two-year trial, which took place in the southern city of Gothenburg, centered on a municipal retirement home where workers were switched to a six-hour day, from eight hours, with no pay cut. Seventeen new nursing positions were created to make up for the loss of time, at a cost of around 700,000 euros, or $738,000, a year.
Although it was small, the experiment stoked a widespread discussion about the future of work, namely whether investing in a better work-life balance for employees, and treating workers well rather than squeezing them, benefits the bottom line for companies and economies.
“The trial showed that there are many benefits of a shorter working day,” said Daniel Bernmar, the leader of the Left party on Gothenburg’s City Council, which had pushed for the experiment. “They include healthier staff, a better work environment and lower unemployment.”
But the high price tag, and political skepticism about the practicality of a shorter workday, was likely to discourage widespread support for taking the concept nationwide.
“The government is avoiding talking about the issue,” Mr. Bernmar said. “They’re not interested in looking at the bigger picture.”
While a growing number of countries and companies are studying the concept of employee happiness, the idea of improving it through shorter work hours has by no means gained broad traction. In Gothenburg, the City Council’s conservative opposition parties derided the experiment as a utopian folly and sought to kill it, citing high costs for taxpayers and arguments that the government should not intrude in the workplace. The current government is also not backing a shorter workweek.
Even the handful of progressive political groups aligned with Mr. Bernmar’s Left party have not made a six-hour workday in Sweden a priority in their platforms. Nor have large Swedish companies, including multinationals active around the world, embraced the idea. Other Swedish towns that previously conducted limited experiments with a shorter public-sector workweek eventually abandoned the concept, citing high costs and flawed implementation.
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