Would We Be Better Off Working A 6 Hour Day?
A care home for elderly people in Gothenburg, Sweden, recently trialled a six-hour working day. The aim was to measure the impact on health, and life quality, for assistant nurses, as well as the broader socio-economic benefits and the possibility of creating additional jobs.
The initial results showed that a shorter working day lowered sick leave by 10 percent. The perceived health of the care workers also increased considerably in relation to stress and alertness. This was especially apparent in child-caring age groups. “Having longer to recuperate and spend time with family is evidently an important factor in creating a sustainable work-life balance.”
Contrast this with the following statistics released by The Health and Safety Executive for stress anxiety and depression in the UK workplace, for 2016:
- 11.7 million working days lost
- £5.2 billion – the annual cost of work related stress, anxiety and depression in Great Britain 2014/15
- 37% of all work-related ill health cases attributable to stress, anxiety or depression
- 24 working days lost per case on average
- 45% of all working days lost due to ill health
- 0.5 million Workers suffering from work-related stress, anxiety and depression in 2015/16
According to a report released by The Trades Union Congress, almost four million employees are working at least 48 hours a week, while one in 25 men work at least 60 hours a week. “Britain’s long-hours culture is a national disgrace,” said TUC general secretary John Monks. “It leads to stress, ill health and family strains.”
The European working time directive, intended to limit the working week to 48 hours, may perhaps have been “lost in translation”. Consider the European average working week of 40.3 hours, and the restriction of just 35 hours per week in France.
A study of 85 000 workers – mainly middle-aged men and women – conducted by University College London , found a correlation between excessive working and cardiovascular problems, especially an irregular heart beat or atrial fibrillation, which increases the chances of a stroke five-fold.
The Mental Health Foundation proffers that when working long hours, 27% of employees feel depressed, 34% feel anxious and 58% feel irritable. Additional research from the Australian National University recently found that working in excess of 39 hours a week is a risk to wellbeing.
Kayleigh Dray, writing on stylist.co.uk, suggests that “Despite six out of 10 bosses in the country agreeing that cutting hours would benefit their business, the average working week for Brits remains 43.6 hours, or 8 hours and 40 minutes per day. (This) isn’t great news, considering that longer working hours have been linked with an increased risk of strokes, heart disease, and obesity (not to mention increased risk of mental health problems brought about by associated stress).”
Lauren Davidson, writing for The Telegraph, references a survey commissioned by Crown Workplace Relocations. The survey found that 75 percent of employees believe that a six-hour working day would be beneficial to their business, compared with 16 percent who thought the opposite, and 9 percent who were undecided.
Six out of 10 bosses believe that cutting employees’ work days from eight to six hours could be beneficial for business. “When asked if their company would consider implementing the six-hour work day, 36 percent of decision-makers answered “yes, possibly” and a further 26 percent said “yes, definitely”, compared with 25 percent of bosses who thought “probably not”.
“Support increased in major cities – where workers are likely to spend longer commuting and have poorer work-life balances – rising to 67 percent of managers in Birmingham, 70 percent in London and Cardiff, and 88 percent of respondents from Glasgow.”
Four in 10 bosses said that they believed that their staff would be just as productive in six hours as they are in eight – twice as many as the number of respondents who thought that the move would actually decrease productivity.
Managers also favoured the shorter day because they thought that “having more leisure time would increase employees’ mental and physical well-being, improve their relationships with family and friends, boost their creativity and reduce the number of sick days taken”.
So why do we celebrate the culture of long hours? Perhaps we should take a leaf out of Gothenburg’s book?