News that Swedish employers are experimenting with a six-hour workday has been in the headlines a lot lately. Major media such as CNN, The Guardian and Fortune have all covered the story — and in early December, a BBC article spent days in the list of the site’s top ten most read stories.
Clearly lots of people like the idea of reducing the amount of time they spend at work in order to boost quality and efficiency. In fact, Bengt Lorensson, a consultant contracted by the Gothenburg City Council to analyze data in one of the pilot schemes, told the BBC he was “overwhelmed” by the amount of interest in his research.
Here at Indeed, the story caught our eye, too. As the largest search engine for jobs in Sweden, we help hundreds of thousands of people in the country find work each month. This provides unique insights into what employers and job seekers prioritize in a job — so we looked to our own data to shed more light on the matter. Is a revolution in working hours really underway in Sweden? Could such a change ever come to the U.S.?
Six-hour workday far from the norm
Scandinavia is a region where the work-life balance is taken very seriously and Sweden is no exception. The country regularly scores highly in global rankings for quality of life and personal well-being.
In fact, while hip startups and employers such as Gothenburg’s Sahlgrenska University Hospital are currently experimenting with the six-hour day, the BBC reports that Toyota introduced shorter shifts for mechanics at its service center in western Sweden over ten years ago. Profits rose, so the policy stuck. Tests of a similar scheme in the public sector also ran in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Even so, Lorensen says that the six-hour day is still far from becoming the norm. But how far?
Well, Indeed data shows that there are precisely zero searches for “six-hour workday” or “short work week” in Sweden. More than that, there are also zero job postings with these terms in the title.
That’s right: None.
In Sweden, work-life balance is guaranteed
What does this mean? Well, it doesn’t indicate that the six-hour workday is a myth — far from it.
The absence of searches for these terms is more likely a sign that Swedes are already accustomed to a robust work-life balance. So while the topic of a six-hour day may be spreading like wildfire on the internet, it just isn’t that shocking to them.
As the BBC reports, each year all Swedes receive 25 vacation days while parents are entitled to 480 days of leave to be shared between them. Meanwhile, only about 1% of employees work more than 50 hours a week versus the U.S. average of 11%. That boils down to the average Swede clocking 1644 hours of work a year — 144 hours less than the average American.
As for other key components of work-life balance, Indeed data shows that the number of Swedish job postings stressing flexible working arrangements has stayed fairly constant over the past two years. Over that same time period, however, the number of searches for these terms has actually declined. This doesn’t indicate a declining interest in flexible interest, however. On the contrary; it’s a sign that in Sweden, flexibility is no longer a novel perk but an expected part of any job.
What are the chances that this emphasis on work-life balance could spread to other parts of the world, especially the U.S.?
In a candidate-driven economy, the allure of work-life balance is helping some employers stand out from the rest. In our recent Talent Attraction Study, we found that 50% of those surveyed consider flexible hours when deciding whether to accept or reject a job offer.
The kinds of flexibility and leave companies offer has become a key differentiator for US employers. This year was filled with announcements from high-profile companies about their generous parental leave policies, and 2015 is ending with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg taking two months off to spend with his newborn daughter. Coupled with these announcements comes the long list of studies revealing that working less has huge payoff potential for employers.
The World Health Organization, for example, estimates that stress costs American businesses $300 billion a year. In addition to attracting talent, a move towards greater flexibility could make measurable reductions in that cost — boosting employee satisfaction and productivity along the way. It may take some time for American working hours to reflect what’s happening in Scandinavia, but there is ample cause for change.