Opinion: Will The “Swedish” 6-Hour Working Day Break Through in Post-Corona Times?

Once COVID19 restrictions are lifted many companies and organisations will be looking for creative ways to cut costs and stay alive. Economizing on staff is one way, but can a smaller crew do the same job in less working hours. For example: will there be a breakthrough of the “Swedish” 6-hour working day?

Two years ago the municipality of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, wanted to try out a 6-hour working day for its civil servants, “following the example of Sweden”. In the biggest Scandinavian country such experiments have been going on for some time. The results are mixed.

Confusing and stressful

As early as the 1990s government and commercial organisation in Sweden have been trying to make their organisations more efficient with shorter working days. In Kiruna, in the far north of Sweden, the 6-hour working week was ended after 16 years. “It proved too difficult and too confusing to properly manage the staff,” a spokesperson said, “and it also turned out to be stressful for the employees.”

It turned out that people could not do their tasks in 6 hours. “It created much stress and after initial success sick leaves were on the rise.” Kiruna introduced the 6-hour working day to reduce absenteeism and give people more freedom.

Struggling to make leaner

Getting back after the COVID19 hit organisations might introduce shorter working days simply to cut costs, while keeping operations going. A number of municipalities in Sweden have been financially struggling for a while already. Changes in the organisation were already on the agenda before 2020 became a disaster.

Centre of Uppsala (Photo by Marcel Burger)
Centre of Uppsala, Sweden’s fourth largest city

Take Uppsala, with about 200,000 people the fourth largest agglomeration of Sweden. The municipality announced cuts of about EUR 30 million already in January 2019, and it kept facing financial challenges when the 2020 budget was made. Making the organisation leaner – read: change organisational structure and move around people – has been a priority for some time. Like many other municipalities in Sweden it cut second language teaching (Modersmål or Mother tongue teaching) at pre-schools substantially and fused the pre-school Modersmål organisation with the one for elementary schools, cutting a few jobs here and there along the way while limiting the amount of man/woman hours.

When the Corona disease struck in Spring 2020 talks about traditional yearly Spring increases of individual wages were immediately frozen. But so far Uppsala doesn’t seem to chose 6-hour working days. Instead it focusses on minimizing the absolute number of its personnel by trying to have staff work full-time in stead of two or more working part-time. In theory this could mean an elementary school teacher with a workload of 80% at his or her current school could be requested to babysit at a pre-school for the remaining 20% of a full-time job.

Working in shifts

For some businesses a 6-hour working day fits just perfectly. Take industries. Car maker Toyota in Gothenburg used to have two shifts of each six hours. Home care in Swedish municipalities would be another field to implement 6-hour working days, since staff also works in shifts. But employees and the biggest union say current care personnel already find it hard to do all duties in the given 8-hour working day, something that has increased in Corona times as more time needs to be allocated for changes in protective gear, safe ways of treating people and sanitising.

Harbour of Gothenburg (Photo by Marcel Burger)
Harbour of Gothenburg, working in shifts is common here

Perhaps the biggest problem is to keep the fundamental principle of equality within one organisation or company. There might be those who can handle less hours and those for whom a shorter working day with the same tasks is too stressful. If you cannot implement it for everyone, it creates disparity. And especially in Sweden, inequality is not the way. | Marcel Burger / nordicreporter.com (text and photos)

Featured photo (tittle photo) by Burst/Pixnio

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