Try the Swedish way of life for happiness

A six-hour work day allows people to be more productive and lead happier lives

By BJ Epstein

Published: Thu 24 Nov 2016, 4:21 PM

Last updated: Thu 24 Nov 2016, 11:19 PM

You're very . industrious.
This was how I was described by one resident when I was living and working in Sweden. And trust me - it was not meant as a compliment.
Although Swedes work hard and with dedication, they do not think their jobs define them. I gradually noticed that people tended to have a healthy work-life balance, and a sense of themselves that was broader than whatever it was they did to make money.
There's a word in Swedish, lagom, which can be roughly translated as: "Not too much, not too little, just right". It means moderate or just enough. And although it is something of a cliche to refer to lagom when talking about Swedish culture, it's still a good place to start. The concept of lagom, after all, raises a series of important questions.
Why work until I'm burned out? Why shouldn't I take regular breaks, including the famed fika, for coffee and cake? Why not enjoy the gorgeous Swedish summer by having several weeks off, disconnected from work? Why should I always ask "what do you do?" when I first meet someone, as though their job is their most important feature?
Swedish culture has taken a step further lately by making moves towards a six-hour working day. In many of the organisations and companies that have made the change, they've noticed that their staff are happier, more productive and creative, which proves the point that if the employees feel better, they'll actually do better work. It's a win-win situation.
Burned-out people cost companies and society time and money. They need healthcare, time off work, replacements have to be recruited and trained. Rested, enthusiastic staff members feel positive about their workplaces and can be passionate about their jobs.
Some people argue that a six-hour working day simply wouldn't suit work-obsessed cultures. But given how unhealthy we've got with rising levels of obesity, insomnia and stress, something has to change. We've turned working hard - and its natural mate, sleeping very little - into a moral issue, or even a fetish. We know the damage that not getting enough rest does to us, and yet we seem unwilling to leave the office, ignore our smartphones, and switch off.
Some companies outside Sweden are trying out a shorter workday and, surprise, they've found that staff are feeling "refreshed" and enjoying the extra time they have for hobbies, friends and families. Time away from work also allows people an opportunity to think about work tasks in new ways and from different perspectives, and they return to their desks feeling stimulated. Maybe it's time for more companies and institutions to start respecting their employees and shortening the hours they spend at work. And maybe the rest of the world will be inspired by Sweden, and we'll start having more fika, more time for leisurely reading about non-work topics, and a more lagom attitude towards our jobs.
BJ Epstein is a senior Lecturer, University of East Anglia. - The Conversation (

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