The Good, The Bad, The Swedes

Can it be time for a zero hour day instead?

I know I can be a bit grumpy about the world. But cut me some slack, huh? It’s hard to be positive about the world when your ideals for it are so far against most of what it currently is and has been for most of human history in one form another. I want a world where folks can work or not work without facing so much stigma.

Without being talked about behind their backs when they leave convenience stores. Without being called lazy or without the word lazy being vilified like it is. Laziness can get shit done but even if it somehow couldn’t help us get shit done it’s still be a great tool for maintaining our mental health.

There’s just too many things in this world for me to be negative about. Prisons, the government, capitalism, the current state of work and just about anything that’s happening at the higher levels.

So here’s me trying to be happy about Sweden trying to shift to a six hour day.

I don’t really think I need to go over that the eight hour work day is bad for you. Or that it’s bad for your physical health. Or that the forty hour week isn’t good for you either.

And if I do, well, the link I have above goes into most of those things.

I plan on more systematically taking on those things and seeing how bad those things are for us. But that’s a longer-term project for another time.

Sweden is often hailed as some sort of paradise by progressives and liberals. It’s one of the Happiest Places on Earth (sorry, Disney World) and is also more liberal in terms of gender with LGBT acceptance being fairly prominent and legally enforced. The welfare system is pretty comprehensive and maternity leave is taken pretty seriously.

So yeah, there’s plenty for progressives to be happy about.

Thankfully, I’m not a progressive but I’ll try not to dwell on that…too much.

The Science Alert article focusing on the six hour days has this highly illuminating (read: not news at all) quote from Linus Feldt, who is the CEO of a Swedish app-developer named Filimundus:

I think the 8-hour work day is not as effective as one would think. To stay focused on a specific work task for 8 hours is a huge challenge. In order to cope, we mix in things and pauses to make the work day more endurable. At the same time, we are having it hard to manage our private life outside of work…

Anecdotally speaking, this definitely seems to be true. Especially for me where if I have a work day of about five hours I am pretty solid. Around the time I start getting sick of work I’m out and that works pretty nicely for me. But at the job I currently have it starts to get bad around the first four or five hours and at about 7/8 PM I start getting mildly apathetic or depressed.

Now, that’s probably not normal. people might just feel some burnout and I’m sure my mental health right now has something to do with it. But I don’t know for sure. It could be that this is a general phenomenon that happens to a bunch of people and the intensity of it is just what’s unique to me.

Regardless, most co-workers in the jobs I’ve had seem exhausted by the end of their shifts. They don’t seem to have much of a second-wind coming. That’s part of why folks usually just go home and do things that don’t require much thought. It doesn’t make them stupid or mean that they don’t want to do anything more stimulating but they often don’t have the time or energy for this.

And I’m hardly an exception to this.

When I come home from an eight hour shift (or even a six hour one) I like to relax for the rest of the night. I’ll either watch some Youtube videos and some Netflix or maybe I’ll do a little bit of talking off and on with Facebook. Granted, some of the YT videos are things about science or are interesting facts about a given thing. But it’s not exactly like I’m engaging in long debates (unless I really need to) or going for a run.

So six hours wouldn’t be too much of a difference to me, personally. But I also have less tolerance for work (both physically and philosophically) than I think most people do. Given that, I don’t doubt that this sort of change in a given country would probably benefit people.

And oh what a shock, it does:

My impression now is that it is easier to focus more intensely on the work that needs to be done and you have the stamina to do it and still have energy left when leaving the office…

Both of these quotes shoudln’t be very surprising to most readers of this site. When I have six hour shifts I feel noticeably less tired than if I had worked my normal eight hour shift. It’s not a huge difference but I do notice it and it helps in the end even if I’d prefer a four hour shift.

The article also however highlights how this productivity is achieved, yeah, there’s always a catch:

To cope with the significant cut in working hours, Feldt says staff are asked to stay off social media and other distractions while at work and meetings are kept to a minimum.

Now, I don’t obviously know how well enforced these things are or how harsh the punishments are if these rules are violated. I can’t really speak to the larger work culture of Sweden or how unequal the power relations in this specific app-developer firm is. But much like open office spaces I like things that come from the workers themselves and not reforms or aesthetic improves that come from on high.

Part of the reason for that is reflected in Feldt’s quote. His impression is that things have improved and that employees have become happier. But as the Science Alert article highlights, that’s hardly scientific evidence. Indeed, as the economist Friedrich Hayek explained, local knowledge is often vastly more complex than centralized organizations can comprehend. This goes for government (as Hayek intended) but also goes for big corporations as well.

Workers have better access to their local knowledge and thus can craft their own hours and policies more precisely than their bosses. Part of that is because hierarchy encourages irrationality and discourages investment in things that happen at the bottom. Your boss is most likely too busy with institutional and general problems then to worry specifically about your individual problems.

Now, this isn’t always the case. It’s certainly possible in a small store that happens to be incorporated that your boss could be more attentive to your needs. But even then there’s still plenty of things that a manager needs to do, extra work they need to take on and a lot of money and paperwork. The barriers to clear and equal communication may be lessened but there are still fundamental power differences that can interfere with that.

Regardless, I am excited to see where this goes. Maybe if we’re lucky it can lead the way for other countries to follow in its footsteps.

I mean, I’m not holding my breath about that. And even if it did happen there’s so much else wrong with work, capitalism and the world at large but…ah fuck, I’ll give it a rest for a second and just try to be happy.

Plus, according to Chantal Panozzo writing at Vox, Switzerland has a pretty good work culture too.

So there’s something else to try to be happy about.

So yeah, I’ll try.

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2 thoughts on “The Good, The Bad, The Swedes

  1. Pingback: The Internet is Why We Can't Have Nice Things - Abolish Work

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