In the highest ranked educational system in the world (Finland), children get minimal homework and spend lots of time playing outside. Schooling doesn’t even begin until age 7, according to Smithsonian. When it comes to education, it would appear, long hours at the desk do not create success; it's focus and commitment that wins the day. Would a similar, adult-version of this approach, improve work?

The Swedes are testing this very Scandinavian idea, and so far, so good. An experiment that began in February 2015 and ends in 2016 involves municipal employees at a retirement home located in Hisingen, Sweden, working six hours a day instead of eight, The Local reported. For some of the workers, there’s a downside, though.

While employees in one department will work six-hour days, a “control group” in another department will work the ordinary 40-hour week — everyone involved will receive the same paycheck. When the experiment ends, the municipality will conduct an evaluation by comparing the two groups, and then decide whether or not to continue the program.

Private and Public Sector

According to The Local, government officials say they are testing the idea to see whether a six-hour day can cut down on sick leave, boost efficiency, and, ultimately, save tax dollars. Those who oppose the experiment say it is a simple ploy on the part of politicians to garner votes.

Sweden, though, has experimented with shorter work days in the past, with a Gothenburg car factory testing six-hour days. More recently, Gabriel Alenius and Jimmy Nilsson began their own private experiment with a six-hour work day. As co-owners of Background AB, a creative communication agency based in Falun, they are putting their livelihoods (and business) on the line to see if their employees do a better job with shorter days.

“Research suggests that it is difficult to stay concentrated at work for eight hours,” the co-owners wrote in an opinion piece published in The Local. “But if you only have three hours before lunch, and three hours after, it motivates you to focus and be productive.”

In Forbes, Frances Booth compares the less-time-more-efficiency idea circulating through Sweden to the prevailing notion at many jobs, presenteeism. As she describes it, presenteeism suggests we stay at our desks to be seen at our desks. And, even if we’ve completed our tasks, we stay in place mainly because the others are there. While staying at our desks helps us to get more done in many instances, there’s also a certain point after which we cease to be productive. The alternative, Booth notes, would be a "results-only work environment" or ROWE, where we get our jobs done and go home… whenever.

What’s the truth?


Medical Daily (unscientifically) opines that for many people simply changing work modes from time to time is what keeps workers fresh and motivated. In fact, scientists, economists, and your everyday Joe have been theorizing and experimenting with different ways of working since pretty much forever. In a 1930 essay “Economic possibilities for our Grandchildren,” for instance, John Maynard Keynes predicted we’d all be living in an era of leisure within a century. He believed technological advancements would mean less human labor was needed and so people would be working only 15 hours a week while possessing four to eight times the wealth. He was a dreamer.

While Keynes vision has not been realized, the work week has gradually contracted over time, at least in America.

According to Historian Juliet B. Schor, in 1850, the average American worked 3,150 to 3,650 hours each year, amounting to between 60 to 70 hours each week, 52 weeks a year. In 1987, the average American worked 1,949 hours each year, which would amount to 37 hours each week.

What happened between those two periods? Mainly, the Great Depression. In an attempt to provide jobs to more people in a dark economic climate, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 required overtime be paid to any employee who worked more than 40 hours per week. To reduce expenses, most employers limited the work week to exactly that length of time and shortened the week to Monday through Friday.