Home Blog Leadership We don't need this culture of overwork
15
Jan
2010
We don't need this culture of overwork

An initiative in the State of Utah in the US aimed at reducing costs has improved employee morale and productivity and is environmentally friendly to boot.

In this article from the Independent, Johann Hari explains how changing working hours for public service employees from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday to 8am to 6pm on 4 days a week has had unexpected benefits:

"The number of sick days claimed by workers fell by 9 per cent. Air pollution fell, since people were spending 20 per cent less time in their cars. Some 17,000 tonnes of warming gases were kept out of the atmosphere. They have a new slogan in Utah – Thank God It's Thursday."

"But wouldn't people be irritated that they couldn't contact their state authorities on a Friday? Did the standard of service fall? It was a real worry when the programme started. But before, people had to take time off work to contact the authorities, since they were only open during work hours. Now they were open for an hour before work and an hour after it. It actually became easier to see them Monday to Thursday: waiting times for state services have fallen."

The UK still has the longest working hours in the world.  As Johann says:

"Work is the activity that we spend most of our waking lives engaged in - yet it is too often trapped in an outdated routine. Today, very few of us work in factories, yet we have clung to the habits of the factory with almost religious devotion. Clock in, sit at your terminal, be seen to work, clock out. Is this the best way to make us as productive and creative and happy as we can be? Should we clamber into a steel box every morning to sit in a concrete box all day?"

The answer surely is no.  "...virtually every study of this issue finds that huge majorities of people say they want to work less and spend more time with their friends, their families and their thoughts. We know it's bad for us. Professor Cary Cooper, who has studied to effects of overwork on the human body, says: "If you work consistently long hours, more than 45 a week, every week, it will damage your health, physically and psychologically." You become 37 per cent more likely to suffer a stroke or heart-attack if you work 60 hours a week – yet one in six of all Brits are doing just that."

I thought the comments on the piece were interesting.  Most seemed to think that you have to work long hours to survive and/or pay the mortgage.

I think that one of the most difficult issues about long working hours is that of 'presenteeism' - where employees believe that they have to spend long hours at work in order to prove themselves as loyal, hardworking employees.  This is strange given that today you do not have to be 'at work' in order to do many jobs effectively.  I also think that personality and upbringing are a factor.  Parents are role models and if it was OK for them to work long hours then we may feel more inclined to think that it is OK to do so.   And some personality traits definitely influence our approach to work.

There does not appear to be a simple answer for why it is that British empoyees feel it is necessary to work such long hours.  What do you think?

 

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