Shorter shifts, better employees?

March 30, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Tabitha Wells

In 2015, Sweden made headlines with a pilot program designed to reduce work hours while maintaining the same level of pay, in an effort to increase productivity, work ethics, and improve life for their employees.

The official experiment consisted of 68 nurses who worked in a seniors’ home in Gothenburg and saw their shift hours reduced from eight to six per day. The main goals of this experiment were to improve staff satisfaction, health, and patient care.

Of course, this wasn’t the first time a company in Gothenburg made such a drastic change. Toyota made the same move in the city more than a decade ago, claiming during this time staff have become happier, the company has had lower staff turnover, and profits have gone up.

While the two-year pilot at the seniors’ home saw each of their goals met, the program has been shut down and deemed a failure, due to an increase in the costs associated with a six-hour work day. In order to cover the shifts required, the city needed to employ an additional 17 nurses, costing Gothenburg an additional €1.4M (equal to $2.3M CAD) in wages.

In most situations where this kind of work day has been introduced, the majority of the results seem to conclude that people function better, are more productive, and are more motivated working six hours than they are in eight. Having more time at home and with families tends to result in people being happier, contributes to lower stress, and feeling more fulfilled. This doesn’t seem like rocket science.

When I think back over the past 17 years I’ve been working, I can honestly say any time I have worked shorter shifts, I have definitely been happier and far more productive. I felt more like life existed outside of work and less like my entire life revolved around working and preparing to work.

But much like anything regarding work, I don’t think this is a one-size-fits-all kind of solution. At least, not without having to take a hit in things such as wages. I believe the seniors’ home is a prime example. In jobs where you need people working around the clock, moving to a shorter shift will mean an increase in employees required to cover the necessary time. First responders, hospitals, police – these are all sectors where this wouldn’t be beneficial. That doesn’t mean, however, there isn’t a better solution.

Many workplaces and industries already offer alternatives to the eight hours a day, five days a week type of schedule. Some have employees work 12 hours a day for four days a week, giving them three full days off. Others do a swing shift with 10-hour days instead, and so on and so forth.

If there is one trend seemingly gaining more attention, it’s that the Monday to Friday, 9-5, go to an office or workplace method doesn’t seem to be working as well anymore. And I can’t say I am surprised. When this kind of work day was first implemented, for the vast majority of industries, everything shut down at 5 p.m. Everyone went home, and life began.

As our world has grown to a 24-hour-a-day kind of world, however, the workforce has struggled to keep up. Now, when we leave work, it follows us home on our phones and our laptops. The world keeps turning, which means things keep happening. We often feel like every moment away from work we are falling behind and when we are there we are so tired and burned out we struggle to put in the full eight hours and be passionate about it.

Many companies have been working to adapt, attempting to help their employees create a better work/home life balance. The number of jobs allowing staff to telecommute has increased drastically, often with more companies moving call centres to their employees’ homes, allowing them to trade in the cubicle for a more comfortable setting. Others simply find their employees can do the same kind of work without actually being in an office, setting them up to access systems remotely.

Some forward-thinking employers have allowed their employees to set their own hours, and others have introduced things like more vacation time, more mental health days, and random days off to provide a day to reboot.

The workforce is changing, and the workplace needs to find a way to change with it. There are many critics who chalk these ideas up to Millennial ‘laziness’, but there are just as many (or more) studies out there proving it’s not laziness, Millennials are simply wired differently. Some of these studies have proven what the experiment conducted in Sweden did – we tend to function far better and do better, more efficient work in shorter periods than in long ones.

Our ability to focus, dive in, be productive, and be passionate about that work increases during those shorter periods. We’re more energised, less tired, and less prone to being stressed out because of it. In my mind, this study done in Sweden proves these things are not limited to Millennials alone.

Of course, the bottom line is, for most of us, this idea is nothing more than a dream. To do this, companies need to be willing to take a risk, recognising it could fail. But, if you’re an employer out there struggling with employee productivity, passion and happiness, maybe it’s worth giving one of these forward-thinking ideas a shot.

Who knows – you may just see a big return from investing more in your employee’s well-being.

Just a thought.


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