Why work more than you have to?

It's a great question. But in an age when many workers feel a constant pressure to perform, and want their peers and supervisors to see them working hard, it makes sense that many of us buy into a culture of hard work at all costs. But hard work isn't necessarily efficient work. Many of us could get more work done in less time, if it weren't for the many distractions of our modern work environments.

Sweden, ever at the vanguard of progressive social policy, is taking steps to make a change to how its citizens work. The country has begun implementing a standard 6-hour work day. 

Here's why CEO of Stockholm-based app developer Filimundus, Linus Feldt, chose to jump on the 6-hour work day bandwagon:

"To stay focused on a specific work task for 8 hours is a huge challenge. In order to cope, we mix in things and pauses to make the work day more endurable. At the same time, we are finding it hard to manage our private life outside of work. We want to spend more time with our families, we want to learn new things or exercise more. I wanted to see if there could be a way to mix these things."

Working longer hours doesn't necessarily mean doing more work. It often means stretching work out over an 8 (or more!) hour span, peppering it with interruptions and distractions and procrastination. Working a shorter work day, but aiming for the same level of output, simply makes sense for many workers.

The 6-hour work day could, however, prove challenging to some workers. Working a shorter day while aiming for the same level of productivity demands intense focus. It means blocking out distractions, staying on task for a concentrated period of time, and taking fewer breaks.  Not everyone has that kind of stamina, plus, breaks give your brain a rest, spurring creativity and inventive thinking--going without them may produce additional stress, rather than alleviate it.

Still, the benefits of the Swedish 6-hour model may outweigh the drawbacks. There are, for instance, health risks involved in working long hours. A study, published in The Lancet, revealed that people who worked 55 hours per week had a 33 percent greater risk of stroke than those who worked 35-40 hours per week.  Of course, incentivizing employees to stay more active and sit less could also mitigate the risk of heart disease.

As a business leader, it's a good idea to weigh the risks and benefits of these types of policies, and do what's right for your organization and your staff. It may be that a project-based approach is best for you: rather than marking employee time in hours.  For instance, you might have employees work toward particular projects, managing their own time. 

Or, you may find that a flexible approach works best: one that allows workers who need to work long days with lots of breaks to do so; while allowing those who can get things done more quickly to leave earlier. The crucial thing is to maintain equality, and to make it clear that both approaches are equally valid so as not to create undue pressure.

Don't be afraid to experiment with policies that may make your workplace more efficient and employees happier: there is no one-size-fits all path to productivity.

Published on: Oct 7, 2015