the Webb blog

The appeal of the Swiss and Swedish work life

4 minute read

I recently read an article about Sweden's six-hour work day and was fascinated by it because here in the States, it's more about the quantity of hours you put in, it's not about the quality of the work you put in (FWIW, that seems to be changing in start-up land). Henry Ford famously tested the eight-hour work day with his factory employees, but it's 2017 now. Do we really need to continue the trend?

To quote Magnus Bråth of Brath, a tech company in Sweden (emphasis mine):

We also believe that once you've gotten used to having time for the family, picking up the kids at day care, spending time training for a race or simply just cooking good food at home, you don't want to lose that again. We believe that this is a good reason to stay with us and not only because of the actual impact longer hours would make in your life but for the reason behind our shorter days. That we have shorter days is not the main reason people stay with us, they are the symptom of the reason. The reason is that we actually care about our employees, we care enough to prioritize their time with the family, cooking or doing something else they love doing.

A third huge reason for shorter days is that we all feel more rested. Obviously we too have to stay late at times, obviously we too are stressed at times but it's from a better base line. Working late at our two offices often mean staying for 8 hours, or 7. Think about it, when mom comes home late, she comes home at 5.

In the linked article at the top of this post, the six-hour work day experiment ended because it was too expensive for the nursing home it was tested in. Nurses were more alert and as a result, care and happiness amongst those being cared for increased drastically. However, more nurses were hired to provide overlap for shifts. As countries become more wealthy, I think the benefits will outweigh the costs.

I look forward to implementing a similar system when I am able to hire people for Ideas Never Cease. Better maternity / paternity / grief leave as well! A previous employer didn't seem to give a damn while I was grieving over my miscarried daughter Zoe Elise and that added to the hurt, immensely. I don't ever want to make someone else feel the way I felt, it sucked. My grief was getting in the way of your false deadline on a project for your still breathing family member? Whoops, my bad. 🙄 But I digress.

Chantal Panozzo wrote a great article for Vox detailing her life in Switzerland and the amazing adjustment from American work life. Here are a few choice quotes:

In Switzerland, you don't arrive to a meeting late, but you also don't leave for your lunch break a second past noon. If it's summer, jumping into the lake to swim with the swans is an acceptable way to spend your lunch hour. If you eat a sandwich at your desk, people will scold you.

Lunchtime is sacred time in Switzerland. When I was on maternity leave, my husband came home for lunch to help me care for our daughter. This strengthened our marriage. Many families still reunite during weekdays over the lunch hour.

Swiss law mandates a 14-week maternity leave at a minimum of 80 percent pay.

People in Europe took vacation seriously. Once, when I only took 10 days for a trip to Spain, my colleagues chastised me for taking so little time off. I learned to take vacation chunks in two-week intervals. Well rested, I noticed that I felt more productive and creative when I returned to work. Recent American research confirms what I was feeling: Relaxing can make you more productive.

I could continue, but you get the gist.

With self-imposed deadlines, I find that I am more creative in my problem-solving and often find better solutions than if I was working on problems without a time-sensitive goal attached. I believe the same thing would be applied to a shorter work day. A six-hour work day would also discourage long meetings without focus (well, long meetings period). I don't see big American companies making these quote drastic changes but startups? Hell yeah, definitely. Instead of focusing on “perks” like beer on tap, foosball tables, and game systems, &c, why not focus on improving the lives of your employees so they can make dope shit?

Happy employees will reward you with their absolute best work. Simple. 🕸