Will A Six-Hour Workday Make Employees More Productive?

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Hundreds of municipal workers in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city, will soon have just six-hour workdays at the same pay.

The municipal council will have two different departments, one that gets the reductions in hours and another that sticks to a seven-hour day in order to create a test and control group. The hope is that those with the shorter hours will taker fewer sick days and improve their efficiency. “We’ll compare the two afterwards and see how they differ,” Mats Pilhem, Left Party deputy mayor of Gothenburg, told The Local. “We hope to get the staff members taking fewer sick days and feeling better mentally and physically after they’ve worked shorter days.” This is all in the hopes that the city will end up saving money.

There’s good evidence on Pilhem’s side. Data from the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development shows shows that the world’s more productive workers put in fewer hours. Greek workers, for example, put in very long hours, clocking more than 2,000 a year on average, while German workers put in about 1,400. Yet German productivity is about 70 percent higher than in Greece.

Studies have also found that working longer days doesn’t necessarily mean getting more done. Putting in more than sixty hours a week produces a small productivity boost at first, but after three or four weeks output will decline. Other studies have found that overwork will produce a short term bump but will end up having a negative impact for longer periods.

There are some other ideas for putting a cap on how long employees work. In France, which already has a 35-hour work week, labor unions have signed a new agreement that requires workers to stop responding to work-related emails or reading work-related materials after 6pm. On a more general level, six of the ten most competitive countries, including highly productive Germany, have banned putting in more than 48 hours a week.

Here in the United States, we’re still putting in long hours. We’re number 11 out of 33 developed countries in terms of how many hours we work per week. A 2008 survey found that 94 percent of professionals put in 50 or more hours a week and nearly half put in more than 65.

One piece of the remedy could be a recent executive order issued by President Obama, which will cover more workers under overtime laws, meaning that more will have to be paid time and a half for putting in more than 40 hours a week. Besides giving these workers an extra boost in pay, it could help to re-normalize that shorter workweek.