The 6 hour working day and other global ideas for improving work/life balance
Swedish companies are trialling shortened working hours to improve staff health and boost company performance. How else are different countries looking to steady the work/life balance of their staff?Jermaine Haughton
Digital production company Background AB located in Falun, central Sweden, started trialling a standard six hour working day in September in an effort to boost happiness and company performance.
Staff are asked to stay away from social media in the office and leave any personal calls or emails until the end of the day and in return can clock off early and concentrate on their personal lives.
Erika Hellstrom, a 34-year-old art director at the firm, said the change has been “absolutely fantastic” for her personal life. She added: "I have more spare time to train or to be outdoors while it is still daylight, or to do work in my garden."
Rated by the OECD as one of the highest performing nations for improving the well-being of its citizens in the Better Life Index, Sweden’s politicians, regulators and employers have, for decades, placed a lot of emphasis on maintaining a high work-life balance.
In recent months, several start-ups in Stockholm have joined Background AB in testing the concept, alongside two hospital departments in Umea in northern Sweden and a surgery unit at Sahlgrenska University hospital in Gothenburg.
The outcomes of reducing working hours in some Sweden companies will add to the debate in the UK and the US about the different measures employers should be using to boost staff engagement, retention and productivity.
Almost three quarters of workers across the globe cite flexible working as one of the most important factors in a potential job. However, there is no escaping the fact that some companies are much better at this than others, offering employees the opportunity to have a better work-life balance without impacting their career progression.
David Spencer, a Professor of Economics and Political Economy at Leeds University, has said that allowing employees to work less will help keep staff healthy and happy. As well as limiting the risk of having a stroke, coronary heart disease and developing type two diabetes, he said there would be less mental burnout and employees theoretically would have more time to spend quality time with family and friends.
He told the Mail: “Only a reduction in the working week to 30 hours or less can be seen as genuine progress in the achievement of shorter work time. For us to reach – and enjoy – a three or ideally a four-day weekend, we need to reimagine society in ways that subvert the prevailing work ethic. We need to embrace the idea of working less as a means to a life well lived. We need to reject the way of living that sees work as the be all and end all of life.”
Here are four other work-life balance initiatives from around the globe.
While some employers are guilty of encouraging workers to work long into evening to complete projects, an Amsterdam-based design studio has adopted a unique approach to force employees to get out of the office. At 6pm, someone turns a key and Heldergroen’s desks, with computers and paperwork attached, are automatically lifted up and folded into the ceiling, clearing the office within minutes.
“We think that doing activities like this makes it easier for people to work here," said Sander Veenendaal, creative director for Heldergroen. "You know when it is time to relax or do something else that inspires you."
Global IT services corporation RMSI has ranked highly as one of India’s best employers to work for on numerous occasions, largely due to the range of schemes it provides focussed on helping its 842 employees work hard and play even harder.
As well as having a strong focus on employee health and well-being – through the use of lifestyle assessment checks, dental/medical/eye check-ups, life-skill workshops and stress management through yoga – RMSI also offers initiatives aimed at ensuring safety and equal rights for women, such as self-defence workshops, Tai chi, distribution of pepper sprays and sessions with women police officers and NGOs to create awareness about female safety and women’s rights.
Californian creative agency ThinkPARALLAX launched an incentive-based perk for its 11 employees giving each worker a $1,500 (£974) travel budget to explore the world. Based on the belief that discovering new lands and sites will boost the creativity and refresh the thinking of staff, the agency forces workers to visit places they have never been before or have any family or personal connection with, thus taking them outside of their comfort zone.
Co-founder Jonathan Hanwit's European vacation to Germany and Holland introduced him to things that could be directly integrated into thinkPARALLAX's work and improve the performance of the business.
"I saw a barcode in Europe designed into a certain image, not a rectangle. I saw things in signage that we can literally translate into a project we’re working on," he said.
Acclaimed by Deloitte as one of the South American country’s top ten fastest growing SMEs in technology, Acesso Digital has developed a Google-eqsue philosophy to drive results and profits by positively impacting staff in their personal lives, promoting happiness and satisfaction in the workplace.
Led by its founder Diego Torres Martin, who set up the firm in his early 20s, the Brazilian tech start-up is big on employee perks – think DVD rentals, kart racing, weekly manicures, personal trainers and travel opportunities for employees, including a company-wide trip to Las Vegas.