Whenever summer rolls around, I can’t help but think how hard Americans work and fail to take all the vacation time they’ve accrued – often at the expense of their wellbeing. If only we could be more like Europe when it comes to our attitude about paid time off (more on that later).
How ironic that I’m actually penning this blog midway through what I like to call a “working” vacation for three weeks during which I’m hoping to barely work and play as much as possible. So far so good!
Months ago, I was intrigued by a study of more than 600,000 workers from the U.S., Europe and Australia that suggested those who toil away for 55 hours a week run a 33% greater risk of having a stroke than those who work 35 to 40 hours. Another key finding was a 13% increased risk of developing coronary heart disease.
Other related developments that caught my eye include a two-year experiment in Sweden where businesses are embracing a standard six-hour work day. Preliminary results have been mixed. While improvements have been reported in the areas of employee satisfaction and health, for example, higher employment costs were seen in some cases where additional staffers had to be brought on board.
Linus Feldt, CEO of Stockholm-based app developer Filimundus, which switched to the compressed work week last year, questioned the effectiveness of an eight-hour work day and encouraged employees to spend more time with their families, learn or exercise more. One tradeoff for workers there was a request to steer clear of social media and other distractions at work, while management would not have as many meetings. The strategic objective (and hope) is that employees will have more motivation and energy to get more done in fewer hours.
Several Toyota service centers in Gothenburg, the country’s second-largest city, made the switch as many as 13 years ago, reporting happier staffers, lower turnover and better recruitment of new hires.
In a Fortune commentary, S. Kumar wrote urged Corporate America to adopt the six-hour work day, arguing that “shortening the work day may not quash around-the-clock emails and conference calls, but at the very least, it would reduce stress for workers during the work day.”
When thinking about this topic, I’m also reminded of a provocative interview I heard on a talk radio show earlier in the year about a Brave New World that’s upon us. An expert predicted that the robotics revolution will force developed countries to essentially pay people to do nothing in the years ahead. But I’ve also seen commentaries that suggest jobs will evolve and grow with innovation. Case in point: the emerging specialty of robotics management. Someone still has to tell the robots what to do and keep track of what they’re doing, right?!
Whatever might, or might not, happen with regard to the eight-hour work day, I’ve always been a big believer in efficiency and nimble operations. One such approach is telecommuting, which I’ve been doing now for nearly 18 years. My motivation, energy and time management have always been much higher during that time than when I was at an office attempting to dodge water-cooler banter lest I’d miss a writing deadline.