Is a Shorter Workday Actually Better for Businesses?

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

How many times have you wished for a shorter workday? Late Sunday night, you might think to yourself how much easier Monday would seem if it was a few hours shorter, or at 2:30 pm, you’ve likely been exhausted and ready to call it a day.

Shorter working hours sound like a fairy tale, but you might be surprised to learn that there are business leaders around the world taking the idea of a shorter workday quite seriously.

The Idea

The basic idea here is simple, though it may vary in application. The traditional workday is 8 hours across 5 days, for a total of 40 hours. Some are considering a reduction to 6-hour workdays, scaling down to a 30-hour workweek (or somewhere in between).

Working for 8 hours is physically and mentally draining, so by the end of your shift, your effectiveness is significantly reduced; plus, 8-hour workdays were originally conceived back in 1914, when working conditions and technological capabilities were very different from today’s.

Entrepreneurs and politicians want to know if shorter working hours can result in higher productivity, or other benefits, that outweigh the additional costs.

The Experiment

The effects have been studied empirically. For 23 months, stretching from February 2015 to December 2016, a select group of workers in Gothenburg, Sweden, were switched to a 6-hour workday to evaluate its potential benefits. Their pay was not reduced. Some of the measured results were positive, including a 4.7 percent reduction in total sick days taken, and a noticeable reduction in absenteeism.

More than 50 percent of nurses reported having energy after work in a 6-hour workday, compared to 20 percent for 8-hour workers, and 6-hour workers were less stressed, more physically active, and experienced less neck and back pain.

Of course, this study is still fairly limited, taking place over two years in one specific area of the world, and failing to calculate things like health-cost savings in an accurate way.

The Benefits

Still, we can project four main benefits to a shorter workday setup:

· Morale. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a worker who doesn’t like the idea of a shorter workday for their own benefit. Working fewer hours means you’ll have more energy, more personal time, and a lot less stress. Happy workers are productive workers, so the boost in morale will likely result in generating more creative ideas, staying more loyal to your hiring company, and ultimately, getting more done in the span of a day (though the exact productivity benefits haven’t been empirically demonstrated to outweigh the costs).

· Health savings. Workers on shorter hours experience less chronic pain and less stress. These physical manifestations of higher morale and less strain end up having a net positive effect on employee health afflictions. They spend less time taking sick days and are less likely to develop chronic illnesses. In theory, this could result in saving hundreds to thousands of dollars per worker, on average, though again, these numbers haven’t yet been crunched.

· Personal time. Personal time seems like it’s just another avenue to develop higher morale, but the extra personal time carries multiple benefits for the individual and society as a whole. People with more personal time can spend more time with their families, have more time to exercise and prepare healthy meals rather than buy unhealthy fast food, and find time to work on personal projects. Ultimately, that means a healthier, happier, more connected population — and one capable of more innovation and creativity.

· Task management. Managing your work is psychologically demanding, but with shorter working hours, you have fewer choices to make throughout the day, decreasing decision fatigue. You’re forced to rigorously schedule and follow through on your work, rather than letting simple tasks eat up the extended hours of the day.

The Costs

The biggest problem facing the concept of a shorter workday is the cost. In the Gothenburg study, nurses who worked 6-hour days instead of 8-hour days were paid the same as their 8-hour counterparts. That equates to an instant 25 percent raise (in terms of per-hour wages).

Political officials acknowledge the benefits of a shorter workday, but are concerned about what those increased costs might mean for businesses — and for the government.

What Does It Mean for Us?

One work study in Sweden isn’t enough to justify the benefits of a 6-hour workday worldwide, but you still have control over your own business’s operations. Swedish companies Brath and Filimundus, for example, have been instituting 6-hour workdays since 2012 and 2014, respectively, and their CEOs insist that 6-hour workdays are better for any profession.

If you want to differentiate your startup, or attract more unique-minded workers, or just boost employee morale at your organization, it’s worth considering a reduction in mandatory hours. Think of it as your own miniature experiment; at the very least, you’ll get some free publicity as the concept of the 6-hour workday starts to be taken more seriously.

For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!

CEO of EmailAnalytics (, a productivity tool that visualizes team email activity, and measures email response time. Check out the free trial!

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