The Lessons We Can Learn From Sweden's 6-Hour Workday Experiment

Sep 2, 2019

Health & Lifestyle | Samantha Locke


Sweden made headlines back in 2015 after a handful of companies reported that they would be trialling six-hour days, in a bid to increase productivity and well-being in the workplace, as part of a two-year experiment. However, with employees working shorter hours for the same rate of pay, was it possible for workers to achieve a healthy work-life balance and did companies suffer as a result?

Here’s a quick run-down on the six things we can learn from the experiment:

SO, THE POSITIVES…

Changes in productivity levels and health

A growing number of studies show the effects of what working longer hours does to the human body. These include – but are not limited to – a higher risk of stroke, developing type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease. Lower mental health has also been linked to long working hours.

A care home in the Swedish city of Gothenburg claimed that in the first 18 months of the trial, in which 70 nurses had their shifts shortened, there was a significant decrease in reported sick leaves, evidence of better-perceived health, and early finishes gave offer to activities other than work.

Inspired by the experiment, Linus Feldt – CEO of the Stockholm-based app developer Filimundus – switched to a 6-hour day in 2015 stating that employers should start to value time over money. “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," he said. To manage the loss in working hours, Feldt’s staff are asked to stay off social media while at work and meetings are held if necessary, thus increasing productivity.

Working for change

There is now evidence to suggest that making adjustments in the workplace is a step in the right direction, as the model of a six-hour workday sits well with Sweden’s culture of flexible working. “A lot of offices are already working almost like consultancies”, Bengt Lorentzon, the lead researcher for the Svartedalen care home project, told the BBC. “There's no need for managers to have all their workers in the office at the same time, they just want to get the results and people have to deliver".

This may be the reason as to why start-ups are consciously choosing to ditch the status quo and have embraced new ways to run a business with open arms. Could six-hour days be the future of working?

A better society for all?

Adopting 6-hour days can also have a beneficial impact on people at the receiving end – customers or patients. According to the Washington Post, nurses were more efficient in their work, which gave way to more time and effort put into caring for their patients. Less human errors were also made which potentially saved lives.

SO, THE CRITICISM…

Too blessed to be stressed?

While the idea of a 6-hour day may be attractive in principle, the concept may be unachievable in reality. For example, certain industries – such as the financial market – or employees with heavy workloads may experience more stress under the new working day given that they will have to try and fit their schedule of eight hours into six. This may result in office workers taking their work home, therefore defeating the purpose of the experiment.

On closer inspection, the 6-hour day is not a “one size fits all” approach. Lorentzon tells the BBC that people should not question whether companies should have reduced hours, but should primarily ask: “what can we do to make the working environment better? And maybe different things can be better for different groups”.

It’s costly

Some argue that the costs may outweigh the benefits in the experiment – both financially and in productivity. Whilst the trial in the nursing home created 17 new jobs, it still cost Gothenburg City 12 million kronor (£1.1m), as centre-right opponents argued that it was unjust for taxpayers’ to invest in a pilot that was not economically viable.

Candice Walsh claims that a 6-hour workday cannot erase procrastination overnight. Critiquing Feldt’s adjustments, she says “distractions are more rampant now than ever, especially with social media at our fingertips. Instead, productivity is something that requires a good deal of brain training. You have to make a very conscious effort to deal with your procrastination tendencies head on.”

It’s just not in our culture

Whilst the trial may have been successful in Sweden, its results may not be mirrored in the UK. With all Swedes guaranteed at least 25 vacation days annually, and only a reported 1% of employees working more than 50 hours a week, is it possible for the UK to implement such measurements when we have a lower quality of life?


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