A 6-hour working day. For many it might seem an impossible dream, but for those living in Sweden it’s one step closer to reality. But, what would the real impact be for employees were it ever to be introduced in the UK?

OK, so you might think that 6-hour days are a unique solution to counteract the very short days in Sweden at this time of year. However, when CEO of an app development company in Stockholm, Linus Feldt, spoke to the magazine Fast Company, it wasn’t the short winter days which concerned him.

In the interview, he stated his belief that “to stay focused on a specific work task for 8 hours is a huge challenge.” So now his staff work a 6-hour day, and they couldn’t be happier.

However, this does come with a couple of caveats. First of all, staff have to stay off social media and avoid other distractions too. And secondly, meetings are kept to a minimum. Something that, in the beginning anyway, many UK businesses might have trouble enforcing. I know we at citrusHR spend many a blissful hour in meetings.

Linus Feldt isn’t the only business leader to have implemented a 6-hour working day in the past. A Toyota service centre and Svartedalens retirement home in Gothenburg both introduced the shorter working day in previous years. And each business has reported happier and more energetic staff; the Toyota centre even reported higher profits.

Are there real, measurable benefits?

Happy and energetic staff are great, but could a shorter working day make them healthier, too? A study published by the Lancet certainly seems to think so.

Using data from 25 studies which monitored 600,000 people from the US, Europe and Australia for up to 8.5 years, the report showed that people who worked 55 hours a week could be at greater risk of health problems. This included a 33% greater risk of having a stroke than people who worked a 35-40-hour week, and a 13% increased risk of coronary heart disease.

Furthermore, Oxford University expert from the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute says that our 9-5 working hours are at odds with our internal body clocks.

All certainly interesting stuff. But does this mean that we should immediately start thinking about a 6-hour workday?

So, why aren’t we doing it?

Of course, the benefits to staff’s work-life balance are obvious. But just because the balance is better, doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve reduced their stress-levels.

For example one professor of occupational psychology from the University of Bedfordshire, Gail Kinman, states that “the risk is that people may work more intensively and try to cram more work into a shorter period of time which would increase rather than reduce pressure”.

In fact, working more flexibly might even have a detrimental impact on some. A report in the Guardian suggests that working part-time could even harm an employee’s mental health.

It’s a minefield of different arguments, and there doesn’t appear to be any right answer at the moment. However, it’s certainly interesting to hear about new approaches to working patterns. And could be something that small businesses in the UK who want to stand out to prospective employees consider for the future.

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