Those Europeans can seem to have a leg up on Americans when it comes to work-life balance. With some countries in the EU having generous parental leave and paid vacation policies, as well as its strict “no afterwork communications” rules, it’s no wonder why so many European nations beat out America on the OECD’s 2014 Better Life Index, a chart of well-being factors beyond economics.
And now another perk has emerged in Europe: the 6-hour workday, which is gaining popularity in Sweden. A number of smaller and public sector companies have started clocking out earlier, with enviable results.
"My impression now is that it is easier to focus more intensely on the work that needs to be done,” Linus Feldt, CEO of Swedish app developer Filimundus, told Fast Company. “You have the stamina to do it and still have energy left when leaving the office.”
“Our employees produce more than similar companies do,” Maria Bråth, CEO of Swedish search engine optimization company Brath, wrote in a blog post. The company switched to a 6-hour workday three years ago and has seen its revenue almost double each year, according to Bråth.
“Today we get more done in six hours than comparable companies do in eight,” she continues. "We believe nobody can be creative and productive in eight hours straight. Six hours is more reasonable, even though we too, of course, check Facebook or the news at times.”
Coming Soon to the USA?
A shorter workweek has been something that many have called for over the years, but it's a workplace reform that hasn’t shown any immediate signs of gaining traction in the States. (The average American works 47 hours a week, according to Gallup.)
But maybe it should—a number of studies and anecdotal evidence has shown that companies providing flexible schedules see higher workplace retention, healthier employees and increased productivity. Employees tend to be happier, too: A 2014 study of 700 IT employees in a Fortune 500 company found that employees who were able to control when and where they worked—and had supervisor support of those decisions—experienced less work-family stress.
Some may worry about employees not getting work done. But that hasn’t been the case for the small-business owners OPEN Forum spoke to.
“If there is one thing that I have learned as an entrepreneur and business owner,” says Robert Hake, founder of MyLocker, a customizable apparel company-based T-shirt, “it is that great ideas and business strategies can happen at any point during the day. As long as people get their job done and go above and beyond, I'm perfectly fine with a more flexible schedule. We accommodate our employees' needs by working with them to create a schedule to meet their personal demands. For example, we allow employees to work less hours in a day or change shifts.”
Flexibility, Case by Case
Though large companies like Yahoo and Best Buy have shuttered their flexible scheduling programs, some small-business owners have come to embrace them … on a case-by-case basis.
“We have had great success with using flexible schedules for certain employees,” says Christian Denmon, founding partner at Denmon & Denmon Trial Lawyers. “The key is to focus your team on quantifiable metrics other than hours. Managers use hours to measure work performance because it is easy. The reality is that hours worked has little to do with productivity and profitability. Our firm has shifted the way we measure employee performance from hours to metrics like client satisfaction scores and turnaround time. We don't care if our team members work 30 hours or 40 hours, as long as the clients are happy and the work is getting done. And while we can't measure morale, it's clear that the overall atmosphere in the office has improved since offering the ability to create flexible schedules.”
“We try to accommodate individual needs whenever we can,” says Todd Turkin, HR and operations director of MyLocker. “Being empathetic to our associates builds loyalty, trust and serves as the basis for continued hard work. Honestly, we could accommodate a 6-hour day on an individual basis. I would rather have employees work less days than less hours, as staffing for 6-hour shifts for the entire company would be a management issue.”
Depending on your business, offering flexible schedules could be an opportunity for business growth if you’re strategic about it. “Our commitment to offering employees remote flexible work schedules … allows us to service our customers day, night and on the weekends over every global time zone!" says Bill Mulholland, owner and director of American Relocation Connections, a third-party global relocation company.
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