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Weekend in mid-week

| Text: Gunhild Wallin

Three days’ work and three days off is a model that is increasingly being tried out in Sweden, especially in the health service and care of the elderly.

The idea was considered ‘crazy’ when it was first tried out, but it is now attracting more and more attention even outside Sweden. Several Danish local authorities are going to introduce the model on an experimental basis in the autumn, and several large enterprises both in Sweden and other countries have expressed interest.

- I can cope much better now that I work for three days and then have three days off, even though I now work full-time instead of part-time as I used to. I used to be dog-tired when I got home at half past one and all I could do was lie down on the sofa. Now I’m not tired any more, it feels so great, says Åsa Valdin who has worked at Lövåsen residential home for the elderly in Hallstahammar for the last ten years.

Her department at Lövåsen brought in the 3-3 system a year ago. Except for the major holidays like Christmas and Easter, everyone works for three days and then has three days off. Everyone is very satisfied with the system and where I am work goes very well, says Åsa Valdin.

- I really can’t think of any disadvantages, and I’d be very disappointed if the project came to an end. If I’m not feeling too good one day I know I only need to keep going for a short while before taking a rest. I also have much more time for the kids and more of a social life altogether, she says.

The 3-3 system is now being tried out at about 100 workplaces, mostly in the local government sector, but also in a few private enterprises. Altogether, more than 1,000 employees re working according to this system in Sweden today. And the experience gained so far is very encouraging. Where the system has been in force for longest the sickness rate has fallen by up to 70 per cent, says Sune Nygren, the inventor of the 3-3 system.

The idea came to him back in the 70s, but for many years most people who were told about it said it was crazy. But now the time is ripe for his idea and it has attracted great interest,  particularly in Sweden and Denmark, but in other countries too. Weekends, the raison d'être of the five-day week, are no longer so sacrosanct, at least not in Sweden.

In essence, the idea is that people work for three days and then have three days off. No  supplement is paid for day-time work on Saturday and Sunday (‘inconvenient hours’); it is incorporated into the basic salary instead. Employees work half an hour more every day, but their total working hours are shorter.

The system has many advantages according to Sune Nygren, especially for health care staff, who otherwise have to do their demanding jobs for many days at a stretch. With the 3-3 system they know that they will soon be able to rest from work, and the result is less sick leave and higher productivity.

The 3-3 system offers many other advantages to society as a whole. Public buildings such as universities would only need to be half the size since only half as many students would be there at the same time.

He believes that there would also be fewer traffic peaks, more flexibility for families with children and more community life since half the population would always be free from work.

Sune Nygren is glad that he stuck to his idea, even though it took time to make an impact. Nowadays he is often asked to lecture in Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

- It’s confusing, fantastic and rather exhausting.When you have an idea for so many years that people consider crazy, you sometimes wonder: “Am I wrong or is it the others who are stuck in the past?” But my strong suit has always been the advantages of the system, which I have believed in and explained to people, and now times have changed and people think differently, says Sune Nygren.



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