For most Americans, eight-hour workdays are a distant luxury, not a daily reality. The average American works 47 hours per week, far from what labor advocates over one hundred years ago imagined would be the norm. But in Sweden (of course in Sweden) a group of nurses at a retirement home decided that would try something radically different: institute a six-hour workday, hoping to inspire increased productivity—and get this—greater quality of life.
Were they successful? By and large, yes. According to The Guardian, workers experienced higher satisfaction at the job, leading to reduced turnover and fewer sick days. Some nurses, including Lise-Lotte Pettersson, believe that reduced hours actually inspired improved patient outcomes: “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 … You cannot allow elderly people [her clients] to become stressed, otherwise it turns into a bad day for everyone.” Still, in order to reduce people’s shifts, administrators had to hire more staff (and add more jobs)—making the financial consequences, and externalities, unclear.
Sweden’s experiment isn’t just grounded in “Swedenness” but real economic thought. Research has consistently shown that longer working hours translates into declines in productivity, and by extension, GDP. Economists like John Hicks argue that: “Probably it has never entered the heads of most employers … that hours could be shortened and output maintained.”