Sweden is contemplating a major change in their work schedules that will make Swedes a hell of a lot happier: six-hour workdays.
To an American, this seems like much too little time; after all, most people don’t even have the luxury of working a maximum of 40 hours a week. Many corporate jobs require 50-55 hours a week working, and it’s showing through both physical and mental health. A huge 11 million Americans even work 59 hours a week. That’s almost 12 hours a day for a five-day workweek. And it’s affecting our health in big ways that simply can’t be ignored.
In a new study published last month, a correlation was found between more time spent working and a higher risk of stroke. Researchers from University College London conducted a large project, reviewing 25 studies involving more than 600,000 men and women from Europe, the United States, and Australia.
The data shows that those who work 55 hours or more a week had a 33% higher risk of stroke than those who work 35-40 hours. Longer hours also brought a 13% higher risk of developing coronary heart disease.
Mika Kivimäki, professor of epidemiology, had this to say about the results of the study:
“The pooling of all available studies on this topic allowed us to investigate the association between working hours and cardiovascular disease risk with greater precision than has previously been possible. Health professionals should be aware that working long hours is associated with a significantly increased risk of stroke, and perhaps also coronary heart disease.”
In the Western world, we have a bit of a workaholic problem, and the idea is that working shorter hours means you’re lazy or entitled. That kind of thinking has spurred corporate and technological advances, but it also breeds an unfortunate side effect besides the obvious mental and physical health issues: dedicated time wasting, another reason why Sweden is thinking about truncating the length of a work day.
According to one of Sweden’s top CEOs, Linus Feldt:
“I think the eight-hour workday is not as effective as one would think. To stay focused on a specific work task for eight hours is a huge challenge. . . . In order to cope, we mix in things and pauses to make the workday more endurable.”
These pauses are ways most employees waste time at work, time that would be better spent at leisure activity, spending time with family and friends, enjoying hobbies, or cultivating a healthy lifestyle that isn’t impossible to maintain.
In a survey reported by Salary.com, 89% percent of respondents admitted they waste time at work every day, just to run out the clock. Some even said they waste at least four of their eight hours at work on non-work-related activities. But if most people work significantly more than eight hours, how much of that is useless time being wasted? Why not do your work faster and leave earlier, and have time to have a life?
A short work day may make workers even more productive, not to mention happier and a hell of a lot healthier. Are we effectively killing ourselves by working such long hours?
What if you left work two hours earlier? What would you do with that time? Maybe you wouldn’t skip the gym four days out of five, or maybe you wouldn’t get takeout again because you simply don’t have time to cook a decent meal. Maybe you would have better peace of mind, less anxiety, a better relationship with loved ones, or at the very least, more time to sleep.
Does Sweden have it right? Should the rest of the world follow suit? It may go against the American work ethic, but it may be what we need to finally achieve that coveted, perfect work-life balance.