Finland’s recently-elected Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, has announced that she wants to reduce the number of working hours per week in her country. EURACTIV’s partner Ouest-France provides an overview of similar schemes tried across the globe.
The typical working week in Finland could soon be this: working six hours a day for four days a week. Currently, people in Finland generally work eight hours a day for five days a week, according to The Daily Mail.
During her time as Transport and Communications Minister, Sanna Marin proposed to reduce the working week during a panel discussion held in conjunction with the 120th anniversary of Finland’s Social Democratic Party in August 2019.
On 10 December 2019, Marin was sworn in, at age 34, to become the world’s youngest serving state leader, as well as Finland’s youngest PM in history.
“I believe that people have the right to have more time for family, friends, leisure and culture”, said Marin.
If the measure were implemented, Finnish employers would not be the first to reduce their employees’ working time. In recent years, several companies or administrations have opted for shorter working weeks at equal pay.
And often, it works.
“More efficient and energetic” employees
In 2015, Sweden’s Gothenburg municipality decided that 80 employees from a municipal retirement home were to work six-hour days without loss of pay.
And the results have been positive. Those employees said they were “working more energetically and efficiently”, according to a report published by the local authorities, which was carried by The New York Times.
Shortening the working day also led to the employees concerned taking 15% less sick leave.
And to compensate for the shorter working hours, the municipality had to hire new staff. Seventeen new jobs were created at the cost of about €700,000 per year. Although this boosted local employment, it was too expensive for the city council, the New York Times reported. As a result, the scheme was terminated two years later.
With shorter working days, profits soar
By contrast, the Japanese car manufacturer Toyota also tested the six-hour working day in Gothenburg but applied it on a longer-term basis.
The company’s technical centre in the city shortened its employees’ working day in 2002, The Guardian reported in 2015. At the time, 36 mechanics were involved.
“They used to work eight hours a day, from 7 am to 4 pm, with a one-hour break. And it didn’t work very well: employees were often stressed, made mistakes, and customer waiting times were rather long,” Martin Banck, the site’s managing director, told The Guardian.
The company then decided to reduce the daily working hours of its employees, who retained the same salary. As a result, the service centre is now open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
And the employees?
“They feel better,” said Banck. “They use machines more efficiently, which reduces operating costs,” he added. Between 2002 and 2015, profits at the Gothenburg site have increased by 25%.
Working less, but better
In Sweden and elsewhere, other companies have also shortened the working day for their employees. For example, Rheingans Digital Enabler, a German company specialising in the creation of websites and digital applications, also shortened the working days.
The company’s 16 employees have to work only five hours a day. In return, they agree not to check their e-mail more than twice a day, not to use social networks, and to avoid informal discussions.
In other words, the idea is to work less, but better.
Last August, the Japanese subsidiary of the American computer giant, Microsoft, also wanted to reduce the working hours of its employees, but by switching to a four-day week instead of a five-day week.
The days of the 2,300 employees were optimised, by introducing, for example, shorter meetings. Once again, employees were much more efficient: their average productivity increased by 40% over a month!
And in France? A few companies have already implemented the four-day week, and the idea of this extra rest day would appeal to 60% of the people surveyed in a study published by the human resources consulting firm ADP last May.