In general, the eight-hour workday is regarded as the standard for earning a living. However, it hasn’t been that long since our agrarian ancestors allowed the sun to set their work schedule. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, a separation between work and private lives became an accepted reality. Since then, not much has changed. Workers today, thanks to innovators like Henry Ford, labor an average of 8.7 hours each workday.
As we transition into a work culture that requires less actual labor from us, traditional ideas about work are being explored in a new light. Many think it may be time for companies to consider a shorter work day. CEOs like Linus Feldt of Swedish app developer Filimundus are leading the conversation about what a shorter workday might look like and what the benefits might be.
According to Feldt, “the eight-hour workday is not as effective as one would think. To stay focused on a specific work task for eight hours is a huge challenge… In order to cope, we mix in things and pauses to make the workday more endurable. At the same time, we are making it hard to manage our private life outside of work. 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.”
With the amount of time saved by technology and other modern conveniences, we have greater room to determine our daily structure. More people are choosing to work to live, rather than living for work. This affects us as employers and recruiters when it comes to the quality of life for job candidates as well as employees.
Swedish companies are finding great benefits in the shorter workday. The freedom to allot more time for things they are excited about is translating into many unforeseen benefits.
In some cases, companies may have to put their money where their mouth is to get these results. For instance, a public-sector experiment with nursing staff offered shorter hours for the same pay. The quality of care for patients improved dramatically since nurses were not dragging at the end of shifts, but the higher cost per hour led to additional expenses for the hospital. The question for each individual company is to determine whether a six-hour workday and its associated expenses are less than the cost of human capital for their company. More importantly, can a company remain profitable – or possibly even increase revenue – by moving to a six-hour workday?
As more companies explore this idea, there will be more ways to offset the cost. Happier employees are better employees. Overall, the idea is gaining support in places like Sweden and may soon be coming to an office near you. Rather than trading time for money, companies will be able to expect a more specific amount of work to be completed in the available time, leading to higher productivity and improved company culture.
Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, is an author, speaker, Human Resources professional, and workplace social media expert who has a passion for recruiting, training, and all things social media. She is the president and CEO of Xceptional HR, and a leader in the HR community with more than 12 years of industry experience. The author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business, Jessica was named by HR Examiner as the second most influential recruiter on the Internet and the seventh most powerful woman on Twitter. She is a columnist for both SmartBrief and The Huffington Post, in addition to Blogging4Jobs and Human Resources One on One. Jessica has been interviewed for professional articles in CIO Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, SHRM’s HR Magazine, and on CBS. Jessica earned a Senior Professional in Human Resources designation in 2008, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Business from Kansas State University. Originally from a small town in Kansas, Jessica currently lives near Oklahoma City with her husband, Greg and daughter, Ryleigh.