This Company Cut Its Workday to Six Hours, and They Are Our Heroes
All hail the Swedes. This is how they do it.
New dream job: working for Swedish production agency Background AB. The perks are great — a creative environment, being surrounded by Swedes, no doubt a steady supply of excellent chocolate and massages nearby, oh, and most crucially, everyone only works six hours a day. Six hours! Imagine showing up at the office at 9 a.m. and rolling out at 3 p.m., just as all your friends at other companies are reaching for their third cup of coffee. Life-changing.
So far, this is just an experiment. It began on September 1 and will continue for nine months; the company plans to evaluate its progress every three months. How’s it going so far? The co-owners, Gabriel Alenius and Jimmy Nilsson, explained their thinking in the Swedish publication SVT, which was translated by another Swedish publication, The Local. And everything they say is amazing.
Here, a list of all the great reasons they give for a six-hour workday:
1. Everyone keeps their same pay. Because fewer hours doesn’t mean less work; it just means less wasting time at work.
2. It’s already under discussion nationwide. In Sweden, that is. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., we’ve got a serious presidential candidate talking about how Americans need to work even longer hours. But in Sweden? Alenius and Nilsson write that “the six-hour workday has been discussed at a political level for several years.” Oh, Sweden. Take us now.
3. It’s not actually possible to work eight hours. “Research suggests that it is difficult to stay concentrated at work for eight hours,” the guys write. You know this is true — just look at you, reading this piece right now at work. So why are we all, employers and employees alike, pretending that we work full workdays?
4. The schedule is great. Here it is: Three hours before lunch, and three hours after. “It motivates you to focus and be productive,” they write. Yes.
5. When you have time for your personal life, you won’t manage it at work. “If you have an active life, the private to-do list tends to edge on to the office to-do list, and vice versa,” they write. “This can create stress. We believe that you feel better by focusing on one thing at a time.” That’s 100% true. I don’t want to be scheduling doctor appointments at my office, but I do it because when else am I going to do that? Better idea: I’ll do it when I get home after work at, you know, 3:30 p.m.
6. Lunch break: still one hour! And it makes sense: During an eight-hour workday, you surely burn at least a collective hour-plus talking fantasy football with colleagues. During a six-hour workday, that time becomes designated — lunch! — and the rest of your time is more clearly focused on work.
7. Team up to finish faster. Sell it, fellas: “At our company, we also plan to work together in groups more than before. More employees will be part of the same project, which will then be wrapped up more quickly. This also makes the project less vulnerable to any staff members claiming sick days. Working like this, we should be able to provide better service. Projects will have a shorter turnaround time, there will be more frequent meetings with customers, more focus on one customer at a time and shorter delivery times.”
8. When you’re focused, there’s no need to re-focus. Our offices are not efficient places. One study found that the average worker is interrupted every 11 minutes, and that it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to a task after an interruption. Seriously, why are we even showing up at work? The Swedes have the answer: “Constantly having to refocus consumes time and energy. With our new working hours we are able to focus more on finishing one thing, before moving on to the next.”
9. No more office meetings that drag on for hours. We indulge them in America because, hey, we’ve got eight damn hours to be in this office — what’s another 45 minutes in the conference room? But at Background AB, they don’t have time for that. Meetings are short. As they should be.
10. Fewer “fika” breaks. America has its Starbucks runs. Sweden has its fika breaks — time for coffee and cake. Delicious! But you know what? Now you can have your coffee and cake on your own time, after 3 p.m.
In summary: We should all leave work at 3 p.m. today, and every day, until our bosses understand it’s best for everyone. Bye.
Photos by ANDERS WIKLUND/AFP/Getty Images