Sickness leave halved in six-hour day trial

Assistant nurses at a care home in Sweden who worked reduced hours reported higher rates of good health, calmness and alertness.

Assistant nurses taking part in a trial of six-hour working days in Sweden reported higher rates of good health, calmness and alertness.

Assistant nurses in the trial spent 80% more time doing activities with the residents. Picture: iStock

During the two-year pilot study in a Gothenburg care home, which finished at the end of December, sickness absence was considerably lower than in similar facilities.

An interim report into the first 18 months of the project found that 77% of assistant nurses reported good health, compared with only 49% at a similar care home without reduced hours. 

Three quarters (75%) described feeling alert, compared with 38% in the other home, and 72% said they felt calm, compared with 45% in the sample.

Reduced sickness absence

Sickness absence for 2015 was 15 working days per assistant at Svartedalen care home, compared with 31 days in care homes across the city.

Long-term sick leave after 18 months was 2.8 times higher on average in other care homes, compared with Svartedalen, research into the local authority project found.

Assistant nurses at the home spent 80% more time doing activities with the residents, suggesting that residents benefitted from the reduced hours.

The home hired 17 new full-time members of staff so that hours could be reduced. About half of this £900,000 cost to the local authority was offset by the reduction in unemployment, the study said.

Unlike the approach in Sweden, an increasing number of hospitals in the UK have moved towards longer, 12-hour shifts, as managers believe it saves money through fewer shift handovers, and it is often popular with staff because it means they work fewer days.

But there are concerns that quality of care can suffer when staff work long days.

Job satisfaction

University of Southampton chair of health services research Peter Griffiths said the interim results of the trial were ‘encouraging’ and worth further study.

‘We know from other research that increasing shift lengths are associated with worse job satisfaction and there is an indication that quality of care suffers,’ Professor Griffiths said.

‘This seems to apply especially when working very long shifts of 12 hours or more. However, we don’t know the optimum length and we certainly should not assume that a traditional eight-hour day represents this.

'There are potential downsides of shorter days, which might cause problems such as more handovers, more work days or fewer paid hours for employees and loss of continuity in the day. However, those working shorter days could well be more effective while they are at work.’

The future of the project is not clear as it is not supported univerisally by politicians in Gothenburg.

Daniel Bernmar, Left party member of the City executive board and deputy mayor, believes that six hour days show exciting promise, and he hopes that employers and unions may consider shorter days in the future.

Opposition colleagues dismiss it as an expensive waste of money in a care home that already functioned well and had low rates of sick leave.

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