Sweden’s six-hour day experiment proves 'too expensive'

While the benefits in terms of staff wellbeing were high, so were the costs of operating the policy.

Despite the benefits in terms of staff wellbeing, a Swedish experiment centred on a six-hour workday will not be rolled out more widely or permanently due to the costs involved.

The two-year trial, which involved shaving two hours off the working day while maintaining pay levels for 68 nurses at Svartedalen old people’s home in Gothenburg, is now almost complete. On the upside, it showed that the professionals involved now feel happier and healthier as a result of the move, which has in turn cut sick leave in half and resulted in improvements in patient care.

But the city has no plans to make the policy more permanent or to broaden it out to other organisations. To cover the lower working hours, it had to hire 17 extra staff at a cost of about 12 million kroner ($1.3 million).

Daniel Bernmar, a local left-wing politician responsible for running elderly people’s care for the municipality, said: “It’s associated with higher costs, absolutely. It’s far too expensive to carry out a general shortening of working hours within a reasonable time frame.”

The experiment is not the first to take place in Sweden. Toyota’s service centre on the country’s west coast cut the duration of its mechanics’ shifts more than a decade ago, which resulted in a swift increase in profit.

A handful of trials also took place in the public sector during the 1990s and early 2000s, including one in the northern town of Kiruna. It ran for 16 years, but was scrapped amid a political row and criticism over a lack of raw data to measure its success.

But in 2015, several start-ups in Stockholm also began testing the concept along with two hospital departments in Umea in northern Sweden and a surgery unit at Sahlgrenska University hospital in Gothenburg.

However, while historical data indicates that the length of the average working day in the country has fallen over the last century, there are currently no plans to establish six-hour working days at the national level.