Some towns in Sweden decided to switch to a six-hour workday for their public employees. The results have been great. People are happier. Patients at a nursing home are getting much better care. Everyone has enough time for family and hobbies, and I can only imagine burnout will be a thing of a past. We should all adopt it!

Except for one big problem--these are public-sector employees. This means their employers don't have to be concerned about, well, you know, money. Sure, they do have budget limits, but it's not like the private sector, where you have to at least break even and preferably make a profit.

For example, a care home that switched to six-hour days for nurses found that the nurses loved it and the patients loved nurses who weren't stressed out. But the home had to hire 14 extra employees. In the private sector, you can't just up your budget and get the city council to allot it. You actually have to increase your income.

I love the idea of flexibility. I love a shorter workday--in fact, I work only 20 hours a week. But I make those tradeoffs myself. Inc. doesn't pay me double to make up for the time I'm spending not working, hoping that this reduced schedule will make my ideas fresher. (Although, if the company wants to double my pay, I'm open to discussion.)

France, famously, limited the workweek to 35 hours for non-management employees. This was hailed as the wave of the future. It was supposed to ensure the end of unemployment, as companies would need to hire additional people to do the work. However, the private sector still needs to make money. Companies like Daimler are pushing back, making trades that allow them to have staff members work longer hours in exchange for job guarantees.

French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron also criticizes the rule, and in the midst of an 18-year high in unemployment, there's plenty to criticize.

We do know that there isn't a straight correlation between number of hours worked and productivity. You can't just keep pushing workers and get a linear return on investment. But France's experiment shows that too short of a workweek doesn't work either.

Companies can choose to be cutthroat and require crazy hours, or they can choose to have more flexibility and a shorter workweek. What they can't do is choose to escape market forces. The Swedish towns can, but your business can't.

It would be great if everyone could work less and companies still be profitable, but we've seen how well labor restrictions worked in France. Reduced work hours don't bring about more jobs when you have to make a profit.

Strike a balance for yourself and your employees, but there's nothing magical about a six-hour workday.

 

Published on: Oct 1, 2015