A little more than a year ago, I wrote this Cafe post on an emerging trend towards a shorter workday. The promise is that we can ultimately be more productive and efficient with less time at work. The 8-hour day can be discarded as a relic of the Industrial Era, no longer reflecting modern work. There are also more human benefits to consider, including greater work-life balance, health and happiness.
As of the date of the original post, several companies in Sweden were in the process of experimenting with 6-hour days. One of those experiments was in a government-run nursing home. Early data pointed to increased costs, but those costs were offset by better patient and staff outcomes. The story looked to be positive.
That experiment wrapped up recently after a two-year run. According to the New York Times, the findings were less positive than initially thought. The benefits were still there, and employees were “happier, healthier, and more productive.” Unfortunately, the costs and difficulties of implementation outweighed those benefits in the minds of many policy makers.
It should be noted that those costs were mostly associated with new employees to ensure full schedule coverage; some supporters of the experiment argue those costs are partially offset by reductions in unemployment benefits and more tax revenue from those workers.
Still, skepticism appears to be a large obstacle to these experiments and adoption. It reflects deep divides about what the future of work should look like, how investments in employees should be directed, and who should be responsible for those changes.
In spite of (or perhaps because of) that skepticism, companies and municipalities continue to experiment with more human work practices and policies.
While it is not quite clear what the next iteration of the workplace will look like, it is clear that traditional methods of organizing need to be changed. Each experiment shows us that there is room for improvement, providing insight for avenues that might be useful.
Whether a shorter workday or workweek is one of those avenues is still open for debate, but there is evidence of the benefits to restructuring our time and interactions at work.
These experiments have shown that we can increase well-being and productivity, and that things like happiness can have tangible outcomes. As we build our collective knowledge across organizations and settings, we can solve for the remaining variables like cost and ease of implementation. I am excited to see where that journey can take us.
What experiments do you see as establishing a foundation for what the future of work can be?
As Globoforce’s Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting, Derek Irvine is an internationally minded management professional with over 20 years of experience helping global companies set a higher ambition for global strategic employee recognition, leading workshops, strategy meetings and industry sessions around the world. He is the co-author of "The Power of Thanks" and his articles on fostering and managing a culture of appreciation through strategic recognition have been published in Businessweek, Workspan and HR Management. Derek splits his time between Dublin and Boston. Follow Derek on Twitter at @DerekIrvine.