Amazon made waves recently when they announced a pilot program offering a 30-hour workweek. Selected employees will earn 75 percent of a full-time salary, but receive the same benefits as full-time employees.
On the other side of the world, in Gothenburg, Sweden, employees at the Svartedalens nursing home have been working 30-hour weeks for over a year. (Svartedalens was selected to participate in an experiment about the future of work. Last February, employees began working six-hour days instead of eight--for the same wage.
How did it turn out?
Early returns looked promising. Employees seemed to be brimming with energy, and residents said the standard of care had increased. But would those benefits last over time?
"An audit published in mid-April concluded that the program in its first year had sharply reduced absenteeism, and improved productivity and worker health," as reported in The New York Times.
"What's good is that we're happy," said Arturo Perez, a single father who works as a caregiver at Svartedalens. "And a happy worker is a better worker."
"I used to be exhausted all the time, I would come home from work and pass out on the sofa," said Lise-Lotte Pettersson, an assistant nurse at Svartedalens, in an interview with The Guardian. "But not now. I am much more alert: I have much more energy for my work, and also for family life."
Of course, it's not a perfect equation. "Cutting worker hours can cost employers money if increased productivity saves less than the cost of hiring additional workers," points out Rebecca Greenfield, in a piece she wrote for Bloomberg. "Svartedalens had to hire an additional 15 nurses, which cost 6,000,000 Swedish krona (about $735,000). About half of that expense was offset by the decrease in sick days and time off. That said, the experiment didn't measure how the improved care affected the overall bottom line."
But in the tech field, where competition for top talent is stiff, less working hours could be pivotal to attracting older, experienced employees--many of whom are searching for just the right situation to fit their families.
As for me, one of the reasons I started working for myself was to have more control over my schedule--and yes, to eventually have more time for my family. This year, I took Friday afternoons off to spend with my wife and kids, and I'm hoping to make those full Fridays by the end of the year. My next goal?
You guessed it: a 30-hour workweek.
In striving to integrate work/life balance, many companies have brought "life" into the workplace--by providing dining halls, fitness centers, recreation rooms and even laundry facilities on campus. The idea is, if you give employees everything they need at work, why would they ever want to leave?
But I think a nursing home in the middle of Scandinavia, and hopefully now Amazon, may be on to something.
The key to building a better work culture isn't trying to force employees to love your company.
It's recognizing there are other things they love more.