Want better outcomes? Work less
I spent a summer in college interning at a small company in London, where my duties included sharing the wonders of American snack foods (Cheez Whiz has yet to make its away across the pond) and driving everyone up the wall with how often Americans apparently say “awesome!” (“Are you really in awe over that sandwich?” my boss asked one day. “If not, then it's not awesome.”)
Back at our study abroad center, we'd talk in our classes about differences we noticed between our British and American workplaces. Aside from some anecdotes of things that got lost in translation (a classmate of mine once told a coworker she only wore a skirt that day because she ran out of clean pants, which caused some confusion since pants means underwear in England), everyone's main observations were similar: British people seemed to work less.
Not that their work ethic was any different from ours or our bosses' back home. But between flexible schedules, long summer holidays and maternity leave, people were just in the office less. There wasn't the same pressure that exists in the U.S. to put in a full 40-hour work week.
It's no wonder then that the latest experiment in shorter, more efficient work days comes out of Europe.
An experiment launched last February in the Swedish city of Gothenburg has workers at select locations working just six hours a day, adding up to 30 hours a week. Several of the locations testing out a shorter day are in the healthcare realm, with at least one nursing home participating. Changing the hours worked wasn't as easy as a flipping a switch, and the nursing home reported some negatives to the transition.
Fewer hours worked meant the facility had to bring on 14 new employees to ensure round-the-clock care for residents, according to a report in The Guardian. Bringing on the extra workers cost the home more money. But after making the switch, administrators noticed a significant change.
The shorter days improved worker well being which, not surprisingly, improved patient outcomes.
One nurse told The Guardian the six-hour day not only gives her more time to spend with her family, but it helps her stay more awake and alert on the job, and focus better on providing care. The shorter work day was also predicted to decrease employee turnover.
While the six-hour day experiment is likely to end next year for political reasons, the results were evident: People seemed to do better work when they worked less.
Here in the States, we're pretty loyal to our 40-hour work weeks. And frankly, a six hour work day probably wouldn't make sense for many professions. But for those where the health and wellbeing of an employee directly translates to the wellbeing of another person, a shorter, more-efficient workday seems something to be worth looking into.
Because happier workers and healthier patients is something that, I'm sure even my old British boss would agree, is pretty awesome.
[Editor's Note: Nice try, Emily.]
Emily Mongan is the Staff Writer at McKnight's, where the work week (happily) is less than 40 hours. Follow her @emmongan.