The Swedish national obsession with work-life balance: A standard six-hour workday without changing wages.

A free translation of the Swedish way of life.

“Erika Hellstrom loves to be able to close the door to her office at 3:30, before going out for an early night hike in the deep, green forest that surrounds her home in her town.

The 34-year-old artistic director had a long and irregular schedule as a freelancer, but now works for one of Sweden’s first start-ups offering a standard six-hour-a-day job in Falun, central Sweden. It is simply one of the many Swedish companies that experience the shortest working hours, which is part of the national obsession for a work-life balance.

“It’s absolutely fantastic for me,” says Erika. “I have more free time to exercise or to be outdoors while it is still daylight, or to do my garden work.”

She does not have children of her own, but enjoys being able to spend more time with friends and relatives and feels “much less stressed” after her hours were cut short.

Jimmy Nilsson’s co-owner of Digital AB, the co-owner of Background AB, launched the initiative in September as part of an effort to create a more productive workforce. “You can be more focused and get things done faster,” he says.

The staff is at their offices eight and a half to eleven and a half, so they spend an entire hour away for lunch, and then work another three hours and then go back to their homes in the Swedish mountains.

They will be asked to stay away from social media in the office and leave personal phone calls or emails until the end of the day. Wages have not changed since the initiative began in September.

“We will try it for nine months and see first of all if it is economical, and secondly if it works for our customers and our staff,” says Nilsson.


The concept of six hours a day work is not entirely new in Sweden, although 2015 has seen a revival in the idea.

At Toyota Service Center on the west coast of the country, shifts have been cut for engineers for more than a decade, and with the company experiencing a rapid increase in profits, everyone is stuck with the idea ever since.

There were also a handful of public sector trials in the 1990s and early 2000s, including one in the northern mining town of Kiruna, which ran for 16 years but was rejected within a political line and lack of the first elements to measure its success.

In recent months, several start-ups in Stockholm have been testing the concept of Background AB, along with two hospitals in Umea in northern Sweden and a surgery unit at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg.

The highest initiative is in a nursing home in western Sweden, where 80 nurses started working six hours a day in February as part of a two-year controlled study for fewer hours. Eighty staff in a similar nursing home continue to work regular eight-hour shifts.

“It’s too early to draw definitive conclusions, but nurses who work fewer hours, spend less sick leave and have less stress,” said Bengt Lorensson, chief consultant to Gothenburg City Council for data analysis.

He says patient care seems to have improved, with staff organizing more activities, such as dance classes, group reading classes or outdoor walks. she is better”

Swedish and international policymakers are watching the project closely, and Mr Lorensson admits he is already somewhat shocked by the global media interest in his research. He points out that the six-hour day is still a long way from becoming the norm for fewer hours of work in the Nordic country.

More flexible schedules

On the other side of the country, career coach Pia Webb, 40, is flirting between Stockholm conferences.

“I do not know anyone in my network who works only six hours a day,” he says with a laugh.

“Many of my clients are CEOs who believe that work is the most important thing, and then they realize that they have not spent time with the their idiots. ”

But he says he is not surprised that short-term trials in Gothenburg and elsewhere have received so much attention that it advertises Sweden for the idea of ​​work-life balance.

“Swedish companies believe there is a link between health and profitability,” he says. “Large organizations pay for gyms and there is a more flexible schedule. You can work different hours so you can get your kids to school.

The former IT director, who admits he’s tired, recently wrote a self-help book for international professionals entitled “Improving Your Quality of Life: The Swedish Way”

Mutual respect

Across Sweden, only 1% of workers work more than 50 hours a week, one of the lowest rates in the OECD, where 13% is the average. By law, Swedes have 25 days off, while many large companies usually offer even more. Parents get 480 days of paid parental leave to share with each other. Most offices are empty after 5pm.

“It’s a very different experience when I worked in the UK and customers wanted me to stay in touch on the weekends and overnight,” said Ameek Grewal, 29, a Canadian who moved from London to Nordic at Citibank headquarters. in Stockholm a year ago. He is convinced that the Swedish model brings far greater benefits than disadvantages.

“There is mutual respect here. I will wait office hours to call or email my clients and at the same time I know I will not call when I am on vacation. ……

Mr Grewl says the Swedish way is very different, but overall beneficial. “

Maddy Savage is a British journalist based in Stockholm. It is published by: Local Sweden.

Our comments.

They have been thinking about this for several years now in Sweden, but the most important thing is that these are private sector initiatives. In the “Welfare States” the private initiative…. leads to the “benefits” they provide to employees. Let’s name some benefits: serious retirement, profit sharing, flexible hours, gift for productive work, and much more e.g. paid trips. Something new that is now being tried in Canada for some professions usually for services, is paid leave for as long as the employee needs or wants without restrictions. You read correctly, for as long as it takes or the employee wants, of course there is no abuse by employees, let’s say that with the old plan 5 weeks will not get most with the new 10 weeks, of course there will be exceptions. In some cases, employees will take less leave on their own than before, to show their employer that they love their job or do a great job and do not leave for long because of this.

All this is happening on our planet…. are not fantasies, and are related to what is called mutual respect. Usually this happens where the Welfare State is strong and societies are economically developed …… We still have a long way to go to make our national obsession a work-life balance.

The northern city of Kiruna that for 16 years was tested for fewer working hours a day without changing wages. / John Koutogiorgas

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