Six hour working day: preliminary results  

II FEB 15 2017

Kerry Stott

Sweden has just finished its first serious experiment in shortening the working day in a nursing home in Gothenburg. There has been a trend over the last few decades to work harder and increase productivity. However, working harder is not always smarter. Sweden has a long history of trying to gain a good work/life balance for its population; but what do the preliminary results show when it is applied to healthcare when it was rolled out in an 2 year pilot in Gothenburg?

Initially the results are good. Sickness absences went down, perceived health went up, there were 85% more activities for patients, and it created 17 more nursing jobs in the city by reducing sickness. Nurses reported to having more energy and feeling happier in their work. It has been so successful thus far that other areas are following in Gothenburg's footsteps and trialling it in high burn out sectors such as hospital nurses and social workers [1].

On the other hand, some have not liked the pilot, suggesting that it is like 'skipping their homework' citing that some of the work that needs doing takes time and that having such a short day only increased stress due to the work building up.

Daniel Brenmar, the Left Party Counsellor, informed the press that eight hour days are not as productive as six and that shortened working hours is the way forward for Sweden and the rest of Europe. He continued by suggesting that, as we become wealthier, we need to take advantage of it in ways other than higher consumption of material things [2]. However, the trial, despite its success, has proved to be too expensive. The pilot stayed within the budget but it still cost the city 12 million Kronor (£1.1 million) thus it is unlikely to be rolled out to other municipalities.

It is unclear if this is something that could be adapted in the UK. With the current state of affairs within the NHS, A&E breaches in its 4 hour waiting target down to an all-time low of 82%, there is certainly room for improvement [3]. Staff retention, sickness absence levels, and morale are all areas needing to be tackled. Although, extrapolating figures from such a small pilot would be risky. Certainly the UK, and the rest of Europe, will be looking forward to being able to access the published figures which are due out next month.

Any opinions above are the author's alone and may not represent those of the NHS or Mind and Medicine. Any comment is based on the best available evidence at the time of writing.  All data is based on externally validated studies unless expressed otherwise. Novel data is representative of sample surveyed. Online recommendation is no substitute for seeing your own doctor and should not be taken as medical advice.

[1] Savage, M. (2017). What Really Happened When Swedes Tried Six Hour Days? BBC.
[2]. Chapman, B. (2017). Sweden Six Hour Working Day Too Expensive And Could Be Scrapped. The Independent.
[3] Jeremy Hunt: NHS Problems Completely Unacceptable. The Guardian.