Swedish 6-hour workday runs into trouble: It's too costly

Swedish 6-hour workday runs into trouble: It's too costly

Swedes looking forward to a six-hour workday just got some bad news: The costs outweigh the benefits.
A two-year experiment cutting working hours while maintaining pay levels for nurses at Svartedalen old people’s home in the Swedish city of Gothenburg is now nearing the end. The take away was largely positive, with nurses at the home feeling healthier, which reduced sick-leave, and patient care improving.

But the city has no plans in making the measure permanent or broadening it to other facilities. To do that it would need much more money and even help from the national government. To cover the reduced hours for the 68 nurses at the home it had to hire 17 extra staff at a cost of about 12 million kronor ($1.3 million).

“It’s associated with higher costs, absolutely,” said Daniel Bernmar, a local left-wing politician responsible for running the municipality’s elderly care. “It’s far too expensive to carry out a general shortening of working hours within a reasonable time frame.”

The Gothenburg experiment is just the latest in a series of shorter working day trials carried out in Sweden, a country that prides itself on its generous welfare state. The trial has been closely watched globally, with labor activists touting progressive Sweden as a role model in shortening working hours.

French Debate

The debate over working hours is taking center stage in France, where Conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon has vowed to scrap the 35-hour work week, which he says has “done a lot of damage.”

While historical data shows that the length of average working days has fallen in Sweden over the past century, there are currently no plans to establish six-hour working days at a national level.

Still, the added hiring by the municipality has helped the coffers of the national government by reducing unemployment costs by 4.7 million kronor during the first 18 months of the trial due to new jobs, according to the interim report.

Bernmar says he’d like to see more studies into whether an abbreviated working day could also result in long-term gains for society as a whole. One argument is that it could allow people employed in labor-intensive professions to extend their working life.

“I personally believe in shorter working hours as a long-term solution,” he said. “The richer we become, the more we need to take advantage of that wealth in other ways than through a newer car or higher consumption."

Alba Gil Quiros (Right) from the Spanish island of Tenerife assists residents on their way to breakfast at the SenVital elderly home in Kleinmachnow outside Berlin, May 28, 2013. Photo: REUTERS/THOMAS PETER

How Many Hours Should You Work A Day? Sweden To Drop 6-Hour Workday Experiment Citing High Costs

Sweden will abandon its two year experiment on the six-hour work day after findings revealed that the costs outweigh the benefits. The experiment involved shortening work hours but maintaining pay levels for nurses at an old people’s home in the city of Gothenburg.

While there were improvements in patient care and nurses reported feeling healthier thereby reducing the number of sick leaves they took, making the measure a permanent one or expanding the experiment would cost the Gothenburg city council much more money and would require funds from the national government.

“It’s associated with higher costs, absolutely,” Daniel Bernmar, the leader of the Left party running the trial at the Svartedalen old people’s home, told Bloomberg. “It’s far too expensive to carry out a general shortening of working hours within a reasonable time frame.”

In order to maintain the staff’s shortened working hours, the home had to employ 17 extra people costing them nearly 12 million kronor ($1.3 million). However, Bernmar, whose party pushed for the experiment at Svartedalens, dismissed reports calling the experiment a failure.

“It still remains to be seen whether the economic costs of reduced working hours outweigh the benefits. The costs of the trial for the public economy were actually half of what we thought they would be,” he told the Guardian.

The final set of findings is expected in March but the latest report said unemployment costs were slashed by 4.7 million kronor during the first 18 months of the experiment thanks to the added hiring.

“I personally believe in shorter working hours as a long-term solution,” Bernmar said. “The richer we become, the more we need to take advantage of that wealth in other ways than through a newer car or higher consumption.”

Cutting work hours has proved beneficial in terms of addressing issues like health, overwork, unemployment and inequality. The U.S. is one of the few countries that does not require employers to offer paid parental leave or paid time off. A report by market research firm Harris Interactive and careers website Glassdoor found that Americans only take half of their total paid vacation days.


Sweden sees benefits of six-hour working day in trial for care workers

Reducing working hours for care workers reduces their sick leave, makes them feel healthier and improves the care they give to their patients – but comes with an appropriate price tag.

These are the preliminary findings of a two-year experiment with a six-hour working day in Gothenburg, Sweden, which came to an end this month.

In February 2015, nurses at the Svartedalens retirement home switched from an eight-hour to a six-hour working day for the same wage – the first controlled trial of shorter hours in Sweden in about a decade.

To ensure that patients at the home for the elderly were attended to for the same number of hours as before, 15 new employees were hired for the duration of the experiment, costing the centre about an additional €600,000 (£510,000) a year – a 22% increase in gross cost.

But preliminary results found the benefits of the trial were considerable. Reduced working hours led to a 10% drop in sick leave, meaning the employer had to spend less to hire cover. Compared with care home workers with normal working hours, the perceived health of the carers at Svartedalens improved by about 50%.

The employees started to spend more of their reduced working hours on what the analysts classified as “social activity” with patients, such as games or outdoor walks, which can be particularly valuable for patients with dementia.

At the time, Lise-Lotte Pettersson, a 41-year-old assistant nurse at Svartedalens, said: “I used to be exhausted all the time. I would come home from work and pass out on the sofa. But not now. I am much more alert; I have much more energy for my work, and also for family life.”

Daniel Bernmar, the leader of the Left party group on Gothenburg city council, which pushed for the trial at Svartedalens, denied reports that the experiment had ended in failure.

“It still remains to be seen whether the economic costs of reduced working hours outweigh the benefits. The costs of the trial for the public economy were actually half of what we thought they would be,” he told the Guardian. A final set of results is expected in March.

Bernmar said the project had always been scheduled to end in 2017, and there had never been a plan to make the arrangement permanent at the end of the trial. During the experiment, the city council decided to set aside 20m Swedish krona (£1.8m) for similar reduced working hour trials in other sectors of Gothenburg’s public sector.

While historical data shows that the length of average working days has fallen in Sweden over the past century, there are no plans to establish six-hour working days at a national level.

The ideal length of a working day has also been the subject of debate in France, where the rightwing presidential candidate Fran├žois Fillon has proposed a return to a legal working week of 39 hours in the public and private sectors, up from the 35-hour week that since 2000 has obliged employers to pay higher rates or give time off for extra hours.

Fillon said the 39-hour week would apply straight away in the public sector and that negotiated deals in the private sector can allow people to work up to an EU ceiling of 48 hours. He has suggested state workers be shifted to 39 hours, but paid for 37.

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