Can a 6-Hour Work Day Improve Productivity?

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Organizations of all sizes are eager to come up with a performance management system that promotes heightened levels of efficiency. These are the organizations that want to be productive while simultaneously enjoying the benefits of happy, engaged employees. It is understandable that these modern companies, with their ambitious objectives and ever-looming business goals, might want their employees to remain at the office longer, with the aim of getting more work done.

However, the question has to be asked: do increased hours really result in increased productivity?

This question has prompted much debate over the years, but recent research from Sweden suggests that shorter hours, rather than longer ones, might actually be the secret to optimal employee performance.

The idea of slashing employee work hours to six per day, as the study suggests, might at first sound like a radical, unworkable suggestion. Nevertheless, should you decide to incorporate this revolutionary new concept, the evidence suggests that you could stand to benefit greatly.

Increased Employee Performance

Employees are more under more pressure than ever before. Managers have a tight hold on their staff, even when they aren’t at the office. Employees are expected to offer up their own time, including nights and weekends, without so much as a complaint. Allowing this to become the norm is not only dangerous for the reason that employees will feel unable to say no when necessary, but it has also become clear that excessive hours actually make your employees less productive.

Research indicates that performance and productivity drop sharply after 55 hours of work per week, and those employees who work an incredible 70 hours are in fact so unproductive that they might as well have not worked 15 out of those 70 hours.

Longer hours have also been linked to both increased turnover and heightened levels of absenteeism, meaning that it is the organizations that pay in the long run. The Economist demonstrates how Germans work on average 600 hours less in a given year than the Greeks, but they are nevertheless 70% more productive.

On top of this already compelling evidence, the Swedish study at the Svartedalens retirement home revealed that the nurses involved were more productive and patient care improved once the nurses began working six-hour days. This is understandable when you take into account the considerable amount of mental effort and resilience required to constantly focus and perform for eight hours-straight. In order to deal with this demand, employees need to take regular breaks to recuperate, resulting in lost time.

Improvement in Morale

The flexible nature of six-hour days means that employees have more energy at the end of the work day, which allows them to go home and enjoy their private lives. They have more time with their families and friends, they are able to develop external interests and they have the time to refresh before the next working day. This will have a noticeable impact on morale, as employees are ultimately less stressed, frustrated, and overwhelmed. The Swedish study showed that the nurses who worked six-hour work days had more energy and were 20% happier.

Healthier Employees

For your business to be successful, you want your employees to remain in optimal health. After all, healthy brains and bodies have the capacity to work harder and achieve more, and increased health means fewer days off sick. In 2015, it was suggested that extensive working hours can cause ill mental health, as well as increase the likelihood of heart disease and stroke.

The Swedish study reflected that employees were less stressed and took half as much time off sick as they did before the study began. In this way, sacrificing working hours during the day saves a company time and money in the long run.

More Flexible Work Environment

It should be noted that a more flexible attitude toward the workplace, in general, can have a notable impact on employee engagement. Engaged employees are, of course, more productive and can be a tremendous asset to your organization.

Flexibility can be introduced in a number of ways, including fewer (but more productive) work hours. It can come in the form of flexi-time, job sharing, or allowing for the option of working from home when suitable.

If an employee needs to leave early for a particular reason, be open and willing to compromise; this will show the employee in question that you are affording them respect and consideration, which will have a very real impact on how invested and appreciative they are of the organization.

Tips for Implementation

Transitioning to a six-hour work day might sound like a daunting prospect, but as you have read, it could stand to seriously improve your business. However, this leniency and flexibility needs to be tempered with a set of guidelines for employees and managers to follow. A knowledgeable and capable human resources department will be able to assist in this area.

It is a good idea to place a restriction on certain activities such as stipulating that employees don’t check their social media. This will prevent distraction and improve productivity. It will also be necessary to implement a system wherein regular check-ins and continuous performance reviews are undertaken in order to ensure that employees are hitting their targets, they know what is expected of them, and they are aware of how their performance is being measured.

Effective communication is essential for this change to be successful, and this can be greatly facilitated using appropriately chosen human resource software. Such software allows for real-time, effective feedback, team collaboration, and facilitates the process of setting up performance review meetings and tracking progress.

About the Author: Stuart Hearn heads up Clear Review, a company that designs innovative performance management software. He has been working in the HR sector for over 20 years, previously working for Sony Music Publishing and co-founding PlusHR.