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Why Canadians aren’t likely to ever have a six hour work day

Danielle Boudreau
There are key differences between Sweden and Canada that make a six-hour work day here almost impossible (Thinkstock)

I'll eat my desk if a Canadian government adopts a maximum six hour day.

Thats Dr. David J. Dooreys unambiguous opinion on the shortened work day that some Swedish employers are using in their workplaces.

We are moving in the opposite direction, giving employers greater discretion to impose longer work days in the guise of so-called flexibility,’”says Doorey, Associate Professor of Labour and Employment Law at York University, in an email to Yahoo Canada. In Alberta the maximum work day is 12 hours, in Newfoundland and Labrador its 18 hours.

In 2012, Canadians worked an average of 36.6 hours per week, with men punching in 39.6 hours and women 33.2 each week. It varies from province to province, with Quebecers averaging 35.4 hours per week, while Alberta (39.0) and Newfoundland (38.9) workers spending the most time on the job.

Where its working

In Sweden, some workers are now working just six hours per day, reports The Guardian. Nurses at a retirement home who now work a shorter day as an experiment with the same pay are saying they have more energy and time for their families.

Workers at Toyota service centres in Gothenburg, which moved to a six-hour day 13 years ago, are happier as well. Staff feel better, there is low turnover and it is easier to recruit new people,Martin Banck, the managing director told the newspaper. They have a shorter travel time to work, there is more efficient use of the machines and lower capital costs everyone is happy.Profits have risen by 25 per cent, he adds.

Does the work still get done?

Yes, at least in some companies. Brath, a company in Sweden that specializes in SEO for Scandanavia, implemented a six-hour day a few years ago. In a blog post explaining why their 20 employees have a shorter day than normal, they say they have doubled revenue each year since 2012. Today we get more done in six hours than comparable companies do in eight,they say.

Steven Green, president of TemboSocial, has a skeptical take on declaring the strategy successful too early. It takes a couple of cycles to know whether it really is true, so that would be really interesting to find out if actually they really do only work six hours, and to see how they grow their business, he says.

Would this work in Canada?

Canadian politicians are mostly concerned that employment protection laws not veer too widely from those in the United States and other provinces, for fear that the laws will drive jobs away,writes Doorey. No Canadian government will choose to lead North America by following the Scandinavian model of reduced working hours.

Sweden would be able to effectively introduce a shorter working day because of the institutional culture of a country that supports lifestyle and life balance, writes Steve McKenna, PhD, of York Universitys School of Human Resource Management in an email to Yahoo Canada. In Canada there is a somewhat dinosaurial idea that the longer you work the more productive you are.

Whats the hold-up in Canada?

This relates to poor management and innovative thinking in the way work is organized and structured and an obsession with measuring themselves against the Americans,writes McKenna. The Swedish development is a socio-cultural initiative as much as an economic one and Canada is not ready, willing or able to embrace that.

Work smarter, not harder?

Having spent time out in Silicon Valley and working in other areas where theres a lot of startups and competition, a six-hour work day is not going to cut it,says Green.On an entrepreneurial level, talking about trying to compete with all the other people out there who are innovating, who are working 12-hour days, seven days a week, having a legislated six-hour day will just make it harder for those companies to be successful.

It depends on the industry

If youre talking about government workers and the state decides that they want to have a six-hour work day, thats the way theyre going to do it and theyll service their customers less or have more than one shift during the day and theyre going to absorb the cost. Thats a decision, but its going to have a massive cost,says Steven Green, president of TemboSocial. The public sector does not run on the same economics as a private business.

What are the risks?

The problem facing a growing number of Canadians is too few hours of work, not too many,writes Doorey. “Millions can't find enough work to sustain a decent standard of living. It's possible that a six-hour-day law could create jobs by spreading work around to more people. But it's also possible that some already-precarious workers would see their hours cut. We would need to closely study the potential impact of such a dramatic change to our policies.