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CareersTwo centuries after British factory owner Robert Owen proposed that a worker’s day should comprise “eight hours of labour, eight hours of recreation and eight hours of rest”, a new HR theory practised in Sweden entails work days that amount to six hours.

The idea behind Sweden’s six-hour work day is to encourage workers to stay focused during the day, complete their tasks and leave on time in order to achieve a better work-life balance.

Sixty years ago historian and writer Cyril Northcote Parkinson proposed that work expands to fill the time allotted to it (Parkinson’s Law). This bears testament to the fact that even though an eight-hour work day is the norm (internationally and in Pakistan), not all the time is spent on completing work assignments.

According to a research by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), the average time employees spend on personal activities (such as checking social media feeds and emails and attending personal phone calls) accounts for an estimated 1.5 to three hours a day. This means that on average, people only work for around six hours daily.

The real goal then should be efficiency and effectiveness, rather than the amount of time allocated to a task. This is especially true in this age of cloud computing and smart devices, where working smarter is the way forward.

The SHRM research concluded that shorter work days not only result in happier employees and a reduced turnover, it contributes to reduced vocational stress and employee burnout.

However, the underlying caveat here is that the workforce does not indulge in social media activities, meetings are kept to a minimum and other distractions (such as administrative tasks, following up on projects and immediate responses to correspondence) are purged.

Of course, there are certain industries where irregular (night shifts) – and longer – working hours are required (airlines, restaurants, healthcare and IT among others). In these cases, companies should allocate additional pay for workers, and institute a rotational policy to ensure that all employees are able to achieve a certain level of work-life balance.


– Fauzia Kerai Khan

The writer is Chief Consultant, i&b Consulting,Training, e-learning. fauzia@iandbconsulting.com