A six-hour working day in Asia - could it work?

A 6 hour working day in Asia?

Local governments in Sweden are testing out a six-hour work day in hopes of cutting down on sick leave and boosting efficiency, but could a similar plan ever work in Asia?

According to local media reports, the municipal council in Sweden's Gothenburg will test out the concept by cutting one department's work day to six hours (with full pay) and keeping another's at the normal seven-hour day. It's expected that the group working six-hour days will take less sick leave, while improvements in their mental and physical states will increase productivity, the organizers said.

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Experts told CNBC that it's difficult to envisage companies in Asia - where long hours and small holiday allocations are the norm - adopting a similar method.

"I don't think it would catch on in Asia," said Chris Preston, regional director of recruitment firm Page Group in Taiwan.

"The overwhelming feeling I have is that initially there would be a lot of resistance from middle and senior management here within organizations generally, both domestic and multi-national," he said.

According to economic research website FRED, the average employee in France works around 1,480 a year, while Singaporeans work 2,300 hours, for example.

Chinese businessman working at night.
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French workers enjoy 30 holiday days a year, while in Singapore the average annual holiday allocation is around 14 days.

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Recruitment experts told CNBC that despite the longer hours, anecdotally employees in Asia tend to take more sick leave as Asian companies often to stipulate a certain amount of annual medical leave in employment contracts.

George McFerran, Sales and Marketing Director at eFinancialCareers, said he could see the benefits of shorter working hours in Asia.

"The advantage of a shorter working day is that people would be more focused and productive in the office," he said.

"Less time spent in the office would help contribute to a better work-life balance for many individuals and it could even help attract more mothers back to work," he added.

According to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development published last year, which compared its member countries' productivity with their gross domestic product, more productive employees tend to put in less hours.

Greeks for example, put in 2,000 hours a year on average, while the Germans only work 1,400 hours a year but productivity is 70 percent higher.

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Other studies have found that longer working hours can have an adverse impact on employees' health.

A report by the International Labour Office in Geneva published in 2012 found that those who experience higher levels of self-reported 'overwork' report a higher scale of stress and symptoms of depression, and poor health and self-care.

But according to Page Group's Preston, the work ethic and culture is strikingly different in Asia and Europe, which would make a six-hour day more difficult to implement.

"It is a deeply ingrained cultural thing...Asian people are much more interested in the accumulation of capital...and the idea of a work-life balance is not really a widely-accepted concept," he said.

Another limitation of a shorter working day is increased difficulty working with clients and colleagues based in different time zones, added McFerran.

"Implementing flexible working/shorter hours could be a challenge in Asia due to its time zone positioning, meaning employees communicate with the U.S. first-thing in the morning and Europe in the evening," he added.

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In Asia, most people work beyond their contracted hours which would likely make adopting a shorter work day difficult, he added.

Other companies told CNBC they were already seeing Asian firms taking strides towards to more flexible working practices and shorter hours, however.

Victor Tsao, area vice president and general manager of Greater China for Citrix, a global virtualization, networking and cloud IT company, said a trend towards more flexible working was already in full swing in China.

According to an independent survey commissioned by the firm in 2012, 97 percent of businesses surveyed in China said they either already had policies in place to enable mobile working or were planning to do so in the next two years, suggesting that the world's second-largest economy could be the first Asian country to break the mold.

"I also believe that the culture of 'presenteeism' – being seen to be at your desk, regardless of whether or not you are actually being productive – is in decline," added Tsao.

"From my own perspective as a senior manager, an employee who does eight hours of productive work per day is far more valuable than one who spends 10 hours a day in the office but is only productive for half of that time."