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Research reveals the positives of working less

​New research from Swedish universities reveals some unexpected findings around working shorter hours. In 2015 the city authority of Gothenburg, Sweden, took the unique decision to extend the right to part-time working to all employees, for any reason. The move has now been analysed in a new research project that reveals how the change led to benefits for employees – but also for managers.  
The new sustainability analysis of shorter working hours builds upon a survey of 1000 Gothenburg city employees who had a full-time contract, but who had chosen the option of reduced working hours, despite the  reduced salary. Previous to 2015, only students or parents of young children had the statutory right to do so. 

Though some participants did report stress related to financial worries, overall, the vast majority who reduced their working hours experienced increased well-being with a better work-life balance and improved health. The research project also looked at managers' experiences of having employees working part-time and found that they were in general very positive.

“We were surprised that managers viewed part-time work so positively as well. Essentially, their view was that what was good for the employee was also good for the organisation,” says Jörgen Larsson, researcher at Chalmers University of Technology, who led the multidisciplinary research project between Chalmers, the University of Gothenburg and KTH Royal Institute of Technology. 

Among the benefits identified were reduced risk of sick leave and better retention of employees. These advantages were perceived as more obvious than the disadvantages in the form of difficulties with staffing and finding times for collaborative work and meetings. One of the key aims of the project was to look at what motivated people to choose reduced hours.

“The most common reason was simply that the full-time job was too mentally or physically demanding. Many have such demanding jobs, and sometimes also  poor health, that they feel they must reduce their hours. In order to deal with this form of involuntary part-time work, it is important that the work environment is generally improved and that the requirements are individually adapted,” says Jörgen Larsson.

Some of those who reduced their hours wanted better ‘time autonomy’, meaning more freedom to shape  their everyday life, such as spending more time with family, friends and hobbies, but these purely voluntary part-time motives were less common. 

The study sheds new light on ideas for sustainable living in the modern era, including from an environmental perspective. The researchers note, for example, how shorter working hours can even increase the opportunities to adopt sustainable habits such as shopping for second-hand items or sharing goods. 

  “The 40-hour working week in Sweden, which was established as the standard working hours 50 years ago, is deeply rooted in our society. Choosing to work less is viewed upon as a norm-breaking behaviour. But this study offers another perspective,” says Jörgen Larsson.

Read more about the research project in a previous scientific article in Scandinavian Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology: Choosing to Work Part-Time – Combinations of Motives and the Role of Preferences and Constraints”.  

For more information, contact
Jörgen Larsson, Associate Professor and researcher in sustainable consumption, Department of  Space, Earth and Environment, Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden

Photos: Sara Larsson / Chalmers

Page manager Published: Tue 18 Jan 2022.