For most office workers, no matter where they are in the world, the daily office time spans from somewhere between 7-9 hours, measuring up to a 40 hour work week. While it’s around that for most U.S citizens, for some Europeans it’s mostly much less.
Long work hours and a 5 day work week have been proven to not only be physically exhaustive but also mentally stressful, leading to a drop in productivity instead of resulting in more work. Longer work hours also result in a higher rate of absenteeism and employee turnover.
While many of us just might dream for more free time during our weeks, the Swedes have already had such privileges and that hasn’t affected their economic output in any other way than good. Their country is ranked on the 9th position for being one of the most competitive in the world because of the high points awarded to them by the World Economic Forum for a worker-employer relationship and for efficiently using their talent pool.
Germany too was found to have the shortest working week amongst all other countries of the world by a 2014 OECD study, and their economic ranking is even higher at number 4th by the forum.
copyrights: The world Economic Forum. Source: http://reports.weforum.org/global-competitiveness-report-2015-2016/
However, it’s not just the Germans and the Swedes, Netherlands which ranks 5th for competitiveness on the Global Competitiveness Report 2015 has the third shortest working hours. Even Switzerland, which held the top position for being the most competitive country in the 7th year running only requires 1576 office hours per person annually which makes it a nation with the 8th shortest working week. This care and protection of its employees and flexible working hours led to the Swiss being the most innovative and prosperous nations in the world.
Adding on to that, research proves that shorter work weeks are in fact more profitable for companies than long hours, overtime, working from home and responding to emails from vacation. Whereas there are multiple reasons for employees to be overworked like pressure from top management, impressing an overworked boss, personal problems at home or pure ambition, the fact is that over and extra work does not help the companies. Reduced productivity without the knowledge of managers, as they are unable to tell who is really working and who seems to be working, and higher health insurance costs are also driven by longer work hours.
Work that requires interpersonal communication, reading other people’s reactions, making judgment based decisions and managing your own emotional reactions are also highly affected by the stress of long working hours that can hinder or badly affect the company’s growth. Working too hard and pushing your physical limits too much has also been proven to make one lose sense of the bigger picture and feel lost. This usually ends in work being compromised through employee’s less intelligent efforts on more meaningless tasks.
On the employee side, major health costs are incurred with increasing hours, as diseases both mental and physical, increase. Studies revealed that long work hours caused a 40-80% spike in heart diseases possibly linked to longer amounts of psychological stress. Other reasons for this could be higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, limited physical activity and poorer eating habits.
Furthermore, there are many other benefits that are related to a shorter work week ranging from everything between environmental to social. A major environmental contribution is a smaller carbon footprint because when we work more, we pollute more. Since the scale of production of a higher number of working hours is also larger, this creates more emissions. Additionally, economies that are more time stressed carry out their daily tasks in more carbon intensive ways than places where time is abundant. This also means that we would be left with more time to live more sustainably instead of being stuck in cycles of work, earn, spend and consume.
While there are some people who work day and night tirelessly there are many people who do not find any work to do and live in poverty. Unemployment rates are another factor that can be tackled with shorter work hours as the long work hours are mostly not equally distributed and in countries with high unemployment, a change of such hours can help tackle the problem. A shorter work week can aid governments and organizations to distribute paid work and unpaid time more evenly across the eligible workforce.
To make the case even stronger experts from NewEconomics.Org suggest that a shorter work week either in terms of daily number of hours, or the number of working days will encourage gender equality as women currently do more unpaid labor, domestically and otherwise, even when they are working full time. Breaking gender stereotypes will also be possible as when both the partners work less, both including men, will have time to dedicate to caring for their children which is a task traditionally associated with women.
For all families, childcare would also be affected as parents will have more time for their children and by being able to care for their children more parent’s dependency on childcare will also go down reducing the costs of full-time child care, which currently is a concern for many citizens.
Another social reason to push for lesser working time, which may seem like a soft need but actually greatly influences human well-being, creativity, and productiveness, is having an opportunity to enjoy more free time for one’s family, friends, and loved ones and engage in activities that make us thrive and feel alive. This combined social effect will make citizens more socially and politically active as people will have a better chance of coming together, form communities, and make bonds with each other. When the population will have time to pursue social and political ambitions, bringing reforms and transformation in the society will become faster than today.
(To forward the case for a shorter work week NewEconomics.Org published ten reasons which put out their speculations in a simple and convincing manner).