Why Gothenburg’s six-hour working day is doomed to fail

By on May 14, 2014

Management visited Sweden’s second city to learn about its headline-grabbing trial of a six-hour working day, but found that flexible working, not shorter days, is the answer for the office.

Sweden is known for crime novels, uber-cool design and high taxes that fund world-class education and welfare from cradle to grave. So it came as no surprise to hear the nation’s second city, Gothenburg, has come over all lefty, planning to trial a six-hour working day. But is it a PR wheeze ahead of elections later this year or a bona fide attempt to increase productivity?

The year-long experiment may have grabbed headlines across the globe, but it will actually only take place in one care home, admits Mats Pilhem, Gothenburg’s deputy mayor, in his office off the city hall’s main foyer, a glorious mid-century confection of curved wood and balconies.

The 30-40 staff at the home – which has yet to be selected – take seven days out of every 100 off for illness, double the council employee average. The idea – unsurprisingly a product of local government brainstorming – is to see if cutting shifts from eight hours to six would bring that figure down and improve things for both the elderly and their carers, Pilhem says.

However, the council will be adding a third to the wage bill when the trial kicks off some time in the summer, which Pilhem says he hopes will prove a blueprint for wider policies in the 2018 and 2022 elections. Convenient timing perhaps, since there are elections in the city this September, although Pilhem says ideology rather than reelection is his motivation. Hmm.

“It’s about 100 years since we decided to work 8 hours and it’s about 50 years since we worked only 5 days a week. So I think it’s time to make a change and cut the working hours to 6 hours,” Pilhem says.

A study by his party claimed it would cost R19 billion per year to cut public sector working hours across Sweden to seven per day.

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