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In Sweden, an Experiment Turns Shorter Workdays Into Bigger Gains

Source | The New York Times : 

GOTHENBURG, Sweden — Arturo Perez used to come home frazzled from his job as a caregiver at the Svartedalens nursing home. Eight-hour stretches of tending to residents with senility or Alzheimer’s would leave him sapped with little time to spend with his three children.

But life changed when Svartedalens was selected for a Swedish experiment about the future of work. In a bid to improve well-being, employees were switched to a six-hour workday last year with no pay cut. Within a week, Mr. Perez was brimming with energy, and residents said the standard of care was higher.

“What’s good is that we’re happy,” said Mr. Perez, a single father. “And a happy worker is a better worker.”

Sweden has long been a laboratory for initiatives to strike a better work-life balance, part of a collective ideal that treating workers well is good for the bottom line. Many Swedish offices use a system of flexible work hours, and parental leave and child care policies there are among the world’s most generous.

The experiment at Svartedalens goes further by mandating a 30-hour week. An audit published in mid-April concluded that the program in its first year had sharply reduced absenteeism, and improved productivity and worker health.

“We’ve had 40 years of a 40-hour workweek, and now we’re looking at a society with higher sick leaves and early retirement,” said Daniel Bernmar, leader of the Left party on Gothenburg’s City Council, which is running the trial and hopes to make it the standard. “We want a new discussion in Sweden about how work life should be to maintain a good welfare state for the next 40 years.”

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