Nurses Work Harder, Happier With Fewer Hours


By Eris Vilas-Boas

Odds are you spend way, way more waking hours at work than you do at home. Between the time it takes to commute, the standard steady 9-to-5 grind, the always-on mentality plenty of companies bring to working through nights and weekends, those hours add up, along with your blood pressure. In light of all this, unplugging is the most important reward you can give yourself (I'd recommend this Amtrak trip). One thing employers could do: look into this 6-hour work day that folks in Sweden tried.

A recent 23-month study of Swedish workers has revealed lots of the different ways companies can improve their workforces with a 6-hour work day. The trial was held at an elderly care facility in Gothenburg, Sweden's second-largest city, and studied the work days of 68 full-time nurses who were moved from 8-hour work days to 6-hour work days between February 2015 and December 2016. While their hours were reduced by 25% for just under two years, their pay was not reduced. The results of this adjustment were pretty encouraging.

Workers worked harder, not longer

"We found workers were more efficient in six-hour days than eight-hour days," stated Bengt Lorentzon, one of the study's researchers. According to the study, with less time allotted every day, the nurses would manage their responsibilities better, and that the benefits would also extend to their patient interactions.

"They would go the extra mile," Lorentzon said. "They had more time to sit down and listen, read a book, look at a newspaper with them or comfort those not feeling so good."

Overall happiness went up

In the United States, registered nurse has previously been rated as one of the unhappiest jobs around, right behind other thankless work like clerking, and customer service. Also, 12-hour shifts are normal in the US healthcare system, often extending into additional hours. It's a job that beats you down, and a shortened work day goes a long way toward alleviating that stress.

"Less tiredness and more physical activities is the major improvement," Lorentzon said. The nurses were reportedly less stressed at the end of their work days and had much more time to themselves to do...presumably anything except their jobs.

It just looks a lot healthier

While the researchers say the experiment wasn't long enough to come to any definitive conclusions regarding the long-term health benefits of a 6-hour work day, some of the results seem promising. The number of workers who reported having energy at the end of their work day shot up from 1 in 5 (among those working an 8-hour work day) to more than half for those working 6 hours a day. The experiment also saw a 4.7% reduction in sick days and work absences. They even reported having less back and neck pain at the end of their shifts.

There's still a long way to go...

Just because these results were encouraging doesn't mean that all of a sudden Sweden, let alone the US, is going to change tack anytime soon. Even this relatively small study cost $1.3 million to pull off, and resulted in the kind of political clash that always happens when you introduce a radical idea to a large sum of money. One former registered nurse who is now a Conservative Party city council member in Gothenburg, Maria Ryden, criticized the study, saying she wasn't impressed with the results.

"Who wouldn’t work better if you only had to work six hours?" Ryden said. "But somebody still has to pay for it. It’s crazy and irresponsible."

Gothenburg's Deputy Mayor Daniel Bernmar -- who's advocated for the study -- took a more optimistic view, touting out the "feminist agenda" of the all-women study, pointing out that it would allow more women to achieve economic independence. He also acknowledged the controversy: “The opponents want us to work more, not less and only focus on short-term economics. This trial has showed the opposite, that working less can be a key factor to a more sustainable working life.”


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