Over the past couple of years, companies in Sweden have intermittently made headlines for bringing in six-hour working days. And apparently British workers and bosses would be interested in following suit.
A survey of 1,524 respondents by Crown Workplace Relocations found that 75% of office workers said they were in favour of a six-hour working day - who wouldn't be? More surprising is the fact that 60% of bosses said they’d consider introducing it, with the prevailing view being it would be more productive, improve employee wellbeing and lead to staff taking fewer sick days. Only 12% of employees said they thought it would make them less productive.
Britain's productivity figures remain an ongoing problem - labour productivity fell by 1.2% in the fourth quarter of 2015, the biggest drop since the 2008 financial crisis, so maybe we need to look at different approaches to tackle it. In theory, it’s not hard to see why this might help. Many workers would own up to faffing around on email for too long first thing in the morning or mid-afternoon, and having a shorter day might encourage them to get more work done in the time allotted.
But how people work is quite individual – some are determined to push ahead and do so through long hours. Changing that could be tricky. Similarly, a six-hour day might be easy to implement in some workplaces but many have starkly different cultures and expectations making it less than straightforward.
It’s a bit like Richard Branson’s grand gesture gifting Virgin employees unlimited holiday in 2014, though it came with the caveat (or warning...) that staff would only do so when they were certain 'they and their team are up to date on every project and that their absence will not in any way damage the business’. You’d have to be a brave individual to be the first to test out taking a month off on the assumption it wouldn’t damage the business in any way.
Rolling out a six-hour day might improve productivity figures but it's not without its problems. It might be unfashionable, but we're unlikely to see the demise of the nine to five working day just yet.