Is Less Really More? How Working a 30-Hour Week Really Works

A 30-hour working week? What’s not to like, right?

Sweden recently completed a two-year trial in which a handful of companies ranging from start-ups to nursing homes experimented with allowing workers to work six-hour days on full pay. And last year Amazon.com launched a trial of a 30-hour working week option for some teams of staff, offering those employees 75% of typical pay and full benefits.

While Amazon.com’s experiment is ongoing, Sweden’s trial clearly demonstrated improvements to both workers’ productivity and work/life balance. However, critics argued that the cost of such a scheme outweighed the benefits, with one of the trials – a 23-month study at an elderly care facility in Gothenburg – costing the city about 12 million kronor (around $NZ2 million). Yikes. So – game over?

Not necessarily. You don’t need an established 30-hour week scheme at your company, says PEPworldwide:nz managing director Kathryn Anda. The key is simply to work as if you do – and this means maximising your productivity. “It’s not about the hours you work – it’s what you do in the hours you work,” she says. She points out that the results of the 30-hour week experiment in Gothenburg demonstrate that it was quite feasible for the nurses to perform their roles in thirty hours rather than working their usual eight-hour shifts. Working fewer hours made them more efficient – and perhaps more importantly, it made them happier. “The extra ten hours a week that we usually work so often comprises work that isn’t important – work that, even if it’s not completed, is of little to no consequence,” she says.

So let’s not dismiss this daydream quite so quickly. Instead, shift focus. Anda challenges you to try your own experiment (unlike Gothenburg’s, this one’s free of charge. You’re welcome.) “Imagine that from next Monday, you only have thirty hours to complete your work for the week. What would you need to do differently? Could you achieve the week’s work in thirty hours? If not, what would you eliminate to help you achieve your work in that timeframe? And how much of an impact would eliminating these tasks really have on your business?”

Here’s a few pointers to get you started:

  • Identify what’s having an impact on your productivity – for example an email backlog or endless interruptions – and start addressing these issues.

  • Ensure you have clarity on exactly what you need to achieve.

  • Prioritise by impact, not urgency: identify which tasks have the most significant impact on your role and your business and start with these.

And finally? Start thinking about what you could do with a whole extra day per week. Is that enough motivation for you? Now change your mindset, reboot your routine and try the 30-hour week experiment for yourself.

We can’t wait to hear how it goes.