It’s 5:00PM on a Wednesday afternoon and I couldn’t be more relieved. My bags are packed, my computer is turned off and the only reason I’m still seated in this office chair is because I need to wait the reverential 5 minutes before I walk out, lest I am declared lazy for being the first to leave. Now, before we go around pointing fingers, you need to understand that I’ve been working since 08:00AM, with one hour off for lunch; that’s an 8 hour work day.
The standard 8 to 5 is the norm for most working individuals, but is it necessary? In 2017, Sweden released the results of a two year 6-hour work day trial that they conducted in their health sector at the Svartedalen old folks’ home in the city of Gothenburg. Other organizations like Scottish Travel Agency, Senshi Digital, also carried out the experiment. Employees had shorter work shifts which started at 9:30AM and ended at 3:30PM.
“Proponents of the 6-hour work day point out that productivity in these organizations did not reduce; the reverse was actually true.” This is attributed to numerous phenomena; employees took less personal and sick days because they actually had time for their personal lives and families and could look after themselves better. This entailed an overall increase in employee well being and more importantly a saving on the organization’s medical scheme.
Productivity is also claimed to increase because of a lack of presenteeism. This is the practice of being at work without any real need to. They figured if employees are only going to be productive for 6 hours and spend the rest of their time pretending to look busy, they might as well work the 6 hours and do whatever they want for the rest of the day.
“Shorter working days have also been reported to increase job satisfaction, which is known to have a plethora of benefits.” These include reduced employee turnover, recruitment costs, micromanagement and improved communication, idea acceptance, and an increase of self-starters in the organization.
However, there are a few skeptics of the 6 hour work day. One of their biggest concerns is staying profitable. The Swedish Health Care Trial that implemented the 6 hour work day had to hire new employees to make up for the loss in hours. Furthermore, employees whose employers implement this do not expect a loss in income despite the cut in hours worked.
It could further be argued that perhaps this is feasible in creative vocations where breaks are often needed for one to work effectively. However, take a processing plant machine operator for instance. The machine runs at a specific rate of production thus in order to meet the target for an 8 hour shift, the machine operators job satisfaction or presenteeism is somewhat irrelevant. It may reduce workplace injuries or machine downtime but that still begs the question, where would the extra money come from to hire the extra employee, as that would entail a 20% increase in costs.
Bearing this in mind, is this feasible in Zambia?
Zambia’s maximum legal working hours per week is currently 48 hours, which translates to 8 hours per day excluding Sunday. Furthermore, “a large percentage of the formal working sector is in the manufacturing, farming, or service industry which would make it quite difficult to implement”. However maybe the question shouldn’t be can we implement the 6 hour work day but, what can we do to make our work environments better to not only increase productivity but employee welfare as well. Running your own shorter work day experiment may be worth a try.