Ever since the news broke out on Swedish companies’ trialing a six-hour working day, I have found it interesting to take a deeper dive on this seemingly “hot topic”. Sweden’s move to a six-hour working day was done in the hopes that lesser working hours would increase productivity and make people happier. In fact, Sweden’s move towards a six-hour working day announced in 2015 made headlines, and one year down the line statistics show that this shift has resulted in increased efficiency and decreased turnover rates!

Google, the internet search engine giant, is perhaps one of the most reputable firms for adopting an atypical corporate culture that focuses on an enhanced employee experience. In fact Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin went as far as questioning the whole concept of a 40-hour work week based on the belief that society doesn’t actually need everyone to work full-time anymore.

Although Google hasn’t yet adopted reduced working hours, the company invested in increasing the leisure time during their employees’ working hours by reducing their unpaid working hours (those related to household, such as offering free laundry services and free food). It focused on enhancing the “employee experience”, and one needs to simply look at pictures of the Googleplex (corporate headquarters complex of Google) to notice that their work place looks more like an adult playground, than a typical office environment.

Almost 70 years have passed since the adoption of the international labor standard on working hours, which stipulates the principle of the 40-hour week as the standard to which countries should aspire. Trends in working hours, however, still differ from country to country. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 43 percent of employees in Turkey put in a shift in excess of 50 hours per week, versus the maximum 45 hours governed by local labor laws. Following immediately are South Korea and Japan at 22.6%, UK at 12.3%, and USA at 11.4%. Russia scores the least with 0.2%. Surprisingly enough and contrary to what most people think, Greeks put the longest working hours in Europe with an average 42-hour week.

Reduced working hours offer many advantages for countries adopting this model. Clear benefits for the environment, economy and society.

A smaller carbon footprint: Hong Kong was recently announced as the city with highest air pollution levels and that is mainly because of the coal-fired power stations, traffic and the thousands of factories in neighboring China. So in a country where more than half of the labor force work more than 44 hours per week, it is normal that consumption of carbon is more intensive given the time-stressed lifestyle.

A stronger economy: lower unemployment is one major outcome, seeing that a shorter working week helps redistribute paid and unpaid time more evenly across the population. Let us have a look at Germany: With an average of 35 hours per week, the Germans work hard and play hard. Since the working day is focused on delivering efficient productivity, the off hours are truly off hours.

Improved well-being, reduced stress levels and improved mental and physical health. More time to value and strengthen the relationships that enriches lives and helps build a stronger society.

With work-life balance ranking highest on Deloitte’s millennial surveys as a main factor millennials look at when choosing an employer, much thought needs to be done to determine the number of working hours which will best tailor for a healthy happy future economy.

Reference: Forbes, the Economist, the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal

By Tahani Sinjab, Senior manager, Human Resources, Deloitte in the Middle East

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