The eight hour day may have its origins in Australia, but Sweden is set to take it to the next level – by reducing it to six.
Gothenburg, the country’s second-largest city, will experiment with shorter work days in the public sector with a view to rolling out the reform nationwide.
From July 1, one group of aged care workers will move to the six-hour day, while another will toil for the full eight. It is hoped that employees on reduced hours will be physically and mentally fresher, and improve their efficiency.
The year-long trial has been approved by the city’s governing Red-Green coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and the Left Party and will leave workers with plenty of time to assemble flat-pack furniture.
"People have long work lives, and it's necessary to think of ways to create a more humane environment for them in the workplace," Gothenburg councillor Mats Pilhem told Swedish news outlet The Local.
Sweden is already a productive nation working relatively short hours. Data shows the Swedes worked an average of 1621 hours in 2012, compared to the OECD average of 1765. The country was ranked eighth in Europe for productivity by Eurostat and 11 out of 61 countries examined by not-for-profit research group the Conference Board.
Moving to a six hour day would put Swedish workers at the coalface for just 1332 hours a year (out of 8760). The move has been labelled “crazy” and “dangerous” by some opponents.
"It's the kind of populist and socialist policy that's very dangerous for the economy, and we shouldn't go through with it," said Maria Ryden, a councillor for the opposition Moderates party.
The experiment has a history in Sweden. For 16 years Kiruna, a town of about 20,000 in the country's far north, maintained a six hour day for 250 of its employees, until it was abandoned in 2005. Analysts said health benefits were not evident and cited French research suggesting reduced hours could actually have negative health implications, due to increased work intensity.
Skilled tradesmen in Melbourne were the first to receive a sustained eight hour day, although it had been mooted and trialled in other parts of the world.
OECD data puts paid to the myth that modern Australians work some of the longest hours in the developed world.
While Australia has a large proportion of workers who are at the office more than 50 hours a week, we are below the OECD average for actual hours worked annually. And the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows the number of hours we work has gradually decreased over recent decades - though not to the point, certainly, of a six hour day.