A 23-month study carried out in Sweden found that nurses were happier, healthier and more energetic when working six-hour days instead of eight hours.
Carried out in an elderly care facility in Gothenburg, Sweden, the study gauged the effects of a reduced workday on 68 full-time nurses and the care they provided to their patients.
The nurses received their full pay during the trial which was conducted from February 2015 to December 2016.
The trial cost $1.3 million and was also designed to shed light on the effects of shorter workdays on the quality of an employee's life and local employment.
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“Given the attention in international media this small pilot project in Gothenburg has received, it is clear the issue attracts broad interest,” said Gothenburg Deputy Mayor Daniel Bernmar, who also helped promote the study.
“There was also a feminist agenda,” Bernmar said of the study, which included only women. “A six-hour workday will increase the ability of women to achieve economic independence. A shorter workday means that female part-timers will be translated into full-time jobs.”
The nurses who worked six hours were seen to take 4.7 per cent fewer sick days and fewer work absences than when they worked eight hours. Comparatively, a group of nurses working eight-hour workdays increased sick days by 60 per cent during the trial.
The study also showed that a number of nurses who had energy when they left work after a reduced working day increased from 1 in 5 to more than half.
This could also have been the reason behind a 24 per cent improvement in the level of physical activity.
“Less tiredness and more physical activities is the major improvement,” said Bengt Lorentzon, one of the researchers who worked on the study. Being tired at the end of the day means “just sitting on the couch and looking at the television.”
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Other conclusions in the study included the fact that the six-hour nurses were overall more active, less stressed, and had less back and neck pain.
There were many who questioned the validity and agenda of the study.
Eduardo Sanchez, the chief medical officer for prevention at the American Heart Association, said his examination of the study pointed toward reduced working hours being beneficial to one’s health. “But I wouldn’t go so far to say that’s absolutely the case,” he added.
Sanchez said if the study had been longer than 23 months, “it might have concluded that, actually, the six-hour workday doesn’t cost more because the cost of more employees would be offset by the lower cost of less sick says and a more productive workforce that doesn’t utilise medical care as much.”
“They might have extended the study a little bit to understand the effect,” Sanchez said. “Did they look at all the factors that might have better answered the question of, ‘Is this a good thing? Is this neutral? Or is this not so good a thing?’ ”
Maria Ryden, a Conservative Party member of the city council and a former registered nurse, said the study was flawed.
“Who wouldn’t work better if you only had to work six hours?” Ryden said. “But somebody still has to pay for it. It’s crazy and irresponsible."
Ryden also went on to say: "The results should have been so much better as a result of so much money and all this effort. I would have expected much better results than a 4.7 percent improvement in sick leave.”
Bernmar said the study was of course controversial. “The opponents want us to work more, not less and only focus on short-term economics. This trial has showed the opposite, that working less can be a key factor to a more sustainable working life,” he maintained.
This study originally appeared on The Washington Post
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