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Why a six-hour workday may work for Europe but not the US

CNBC CNBC 29/05/2016 Michelle Fox
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Workers in Sweden are proving that spending less time in the workplace may actually be more productive.

In an experiment last year, nursing home employees in Gothenburg, Sweden, switched to a six-hour workday, with no cut in pay. An audit in mid-April concluded the program improved productivity and worker health, and reduced absenteeism, The New York Times recently reported.

As one employee told the publication, "a happy worker is a better worker," and the report added to a chorus of social scientists calling for fewer hours to boost work output. Can that formula be replicated across the Atlantic?

Corporate coach Annie Perrin agrees that when companies make an effort to make their workers happy, it pays off.

"What the evidence suggests overwhelmingly is that the more organizations invest in their people, the more the people are going to invest back into the organization," she said in a recent interview with CNBC's "Power Lunch."

The concept of a shorter workday could succeed, she said, as long as employees are intensely focused and working for those 30 hours.

"We don't think about measuring work that much in terms of hours. That's only one-half of the equation. The other half is the energy that you bring to those six hours of work," said Perrin, who has worked with companies like Google (GOOGL) and Facebook (FB) as executive vice president at the Energy Project. The firm aims to create workplaces that are "healthier, happier and higher performing," according to its website.

Americans shouldn't get too excited about a shortened workday coming anytime soon — even as evidence suggests Americans are increasingly overworked and stressed out. Researchers at Stanford University note that productivity suffers as the number of hours worked increase, which correlates to a number of spillover effects like sleep deprivation and higher stress.

Perrin believes the six-hour-a-day model may be hard to translate to the U.S. because the eight-plus-hour workday ethic is embedded too deeply. Most workers are simply too accustomed to working long hours, and do so because in many cases their livelihood may depend on it.

In fact, adults employed full time in the U.S. work an average of 47 hours a week, according to Gallup's most recent poll on the matter in 2014. That's almost a full work day longer than the 40-hour workweek standard.


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