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Is a six-hour work day on the horizon?

‘I’m so busy,’ Is the all too familiar response from friends, colleagues and family when we enquire about their wellbeing these days. For many, it’s a badge of honour. But is it really something to be proud of? Being available 24-7 isn’t natural and certainly isn’t good for our overall health and wellbeing. In Sweden, many large businesses are implementing six-hour work days in a bid to increase meaningful work and employee happiness.

There, it’s preferable to maximise productivity in a shorter period. The argument is that an eight-hour work day isn’t full of non-stop efficiency. Cutting hours back actually increases productivity because employees focus for a shorter period and they’re happier, because they have more hours for themselves.

Could six-hour work days be implemented in Australia?

Dr Amanda Allisey, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Business and Law, says that although there are perceptions that Australians are slack, ‘we have some of the longest working hours in the world’.

‘Through connectivity, we can see the line between work and home blurred. Additional hours really creep up,’ she says. But the solution doesn’t simply lie in clocking off each day and having the restraint to leave emails unread. ‘We are operating in a 24/7 economy. We adapt to working times of other countries,’ Dr Allisey points out.

While some industries could make a six-hour work day feasible, Dr Allisey suggests it’s not possible across the board. ‘We shouldn’t necessarily have blanket policies,’ she argues.

'We are operating in a 24/7 economy. We adapt to working times of other countries.'

Dr Amanda Allisey,
Deakin University

If we’re working longer, how can we work smarter?

Thanks to email, instant messaging services, shared documents and other workplaces efficiencies, we’re actually getting more done than we used to and we’re able to do it on the go. So, it’s no surprise that many employers are offering flexible working hours as a benefit to staff in return for managing an ‘always-on’ workload. However, ‘The ability to work anywhere is a blessing and a curse. We want people to be able to make use of flexibility, but we don’t want it to be abused,’ Dr Allisey cautions.

A flexible policy might sound enticing, but a company’s leadership team dictates the way it’s rolled out. For example, Dr Allisey explains that if the boss is sending an email at 3am and expecting you to action it at 7.30 am, this undoes any personal gain of working flexible hours.

Those who truly benefit from varying their working hours and location are given the flexibility to work when they’re at their best. Such a policy should decrease stress and increase wellbeing while also ensuring the business is running smoothly. If it doesn’t, it’s a sign it’s not working. However, Dr Allisey is optimistic about the future of work. ‘As long as we’re acknowledging the business needs and people’s ownership of their schedules it can work,’ she concludes.

Interested in running a successful business? Consider Deakin University’s range of business degrees.

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Dr Amanda Allisey
Dr Amanda Allisey

Senior lecturer and researcher, Deakin Business School, Deakin University
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