Need to Have or Nice to Have: The 6-Hour Work Day

This article originally appeared in Nkwazi Magazine. Follow the Link below to check it out.

Need to Have or Nice to Have: The 6-Hour Work Week

Its 17:00 on a Wednesday afternoon and I couldn’t be more relieved. My bags are packed, my computer is turned off and the only reason I’m still seated in this office chair is because I need to wait the reverential 5 minutes to walk out, lest I am declared lazy for being the first to leave. Now before we go around pointing fingers, you need to understand that I’ve been working since 08:00, with one hour for lunch that’s an 8 hour work day.

This may be the norm for most working individuals but it is not the case for a few. In 2017, Sweden released the results of a two year 6-hour work day trial that they had conducted in their health sector. Furthermore, several organizations all around the world have implemented the 6-hour workday. Employees have shorter work shifts which typically start at 8:30 and end at 3:30, or at 10:30 and end at 5:30.

Proponents of the 6-hour work day point out that productivity in these organizations does not reduce; the reverse is actually true. This is attributed to numerous phenomenon; Firstly employees take less personal and sick days because they actually have time for their personal lives. Thus, they do not feel the need to invent illnesses or emergencies to achieve personal errands such as going to the bank or attending family events. Furthermore, because they have more time on their hands they engage in more healthy activities such as working out which reduces stress and lessens the prevalence of certain diseases. This entails a saving on the organizations medical scheme and employees who actually show up to work.

Productivity is also claimed to increase because of a lack of presenteeism. This is the practice of being at work without any real need to. This is attributed to a bias that suggests the mere act of being present entails productivity. Proponents of the 6 hour work week have used this phenomenon to push forward their agenda. They figure if employees are only going to be productive for 6 hours and spend the rest of their time on social media and shuffling papers around there desks pretending to look busy, they might as well work the 6 hours and do whatever they want for the rest of the day.

Shorter working days have also been purported to increase job satisfaction, which is known to have a plethora of benefits. These include reduced employee turnover, reduced recruitment costs, employees who are more accepting of change and new ideas, improved communication, reduced micro management, and an increase of self-starters in the organization.

However, they are a few skeptics of the 6 hour work week. One of their biggest concerns is $$$, where is the money? The Swedish Health Care Trial that implemented the 6 hour work day had to hire new employees to make up for the loss in hours. Furthermore, employees whose employers implement this do not expect a loss in income despite the cut in hours worked.

It could further be argued that perhaps this is feasible in creative vocations, however take a processing plant machine operator for instance. The machine runs at a specific rate of production thus in order to meet the target for an 8 hour shift, the machine operators job satisfaction or presenteeism is somewhat irrelevant. It may reduce workplace injuries or machine downtime but that still begs the question, where would the extra money come from to hire the extra employee, as that would entail a 20% increase in costs. This can also be applied to individuals in the service sector, imagine going to your favorite supermarket at 16:00 and being told they implemented a 6 hour work week so they are now open from 08:00 to 15:00?

This then begs the question, is this feasible in Zambia?

Zambia’s maximum legal working hours per week is currently 48 hours, which translates to 8 hours per day excluding Sunday. Furthermore, “a large percentage of the formal working sector is in the manufacturing, farming, or service industry which would make it quite difficult to implement”. However maybe the question shouldn’t be can we implement the 6 hour work day but, what can we do to make our work environments better to not only increase productivity but employee welfare as well. Running your own shorter work day experiment may be worth a try.