Even Xerox Asks If a 40 hr Workweek is Too Much
|December 20, 2013||Posted by Staff under Editorials|
This 2013 excerpt of Xerox’s Real Business, Dec 13, was rerun by Business Insider, Dec 16.
In my home country of the United States, the average workweek is 38 hours, after factoring in for part-time jobs. I know what you’re thinking: “I work way more than 38 hours a week!” Believe me, I did too when I lived in New York. The most standard U.S. workweek is 40 hours, which is fairly average compared to other countries around the world.
European countries generally work shorter weeks, with France (where I now live and work) famously defending a 35-hour week. Side note: as I have discovered since working in Paris, most French employees actually work much longer weeks, they just get extra vacation days to balance things out at the end of the month.
Productivity is lost if an employee works too few hours but also if an employee works too many hours and “burns out.” Tom Walker, of the Work Less Institute agrees, stating, “that output does not rise or fall in direct proportion to the number of hours worked is a lesson that seemingly has to be relearned each generation.”
In the early 1990s, the famous industrialist Henry Ford decreased the lengths of working weeks from 45 to 40 hours, to the surprise and mockery of his competitors. Over the next decade, Ford’s business boomed and, in 1937, the 40-hour workweek was enshrined in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Not only do longer working weeks fail to bring proportionate gains in productivity, they also engender negative consequences such as workplace accidents and the inevitable lawsuits that follow. This argument is perhaps best outlined in a 2012 Salon article entitled “Bring back the 40-hour workweek.”
Data from other countries suggests that perhaps even a 40-hour workweek is too long and that the optimum number of hours lies in the 30s. The French, with their legally enshrined 35-hour week and lengthy holiday period (the entire country more or less shuts down every August), work the least amount of hours per year in the world.
For the hours the French do work, though, they are much more productive than workers almost anywhere else. France’s total economic output divided by the number of hours worked is among the highest in the world, even higher than in Germany. Quality over quantity seems to be the French philosophy, working less but working better.
In Germany, the average workweek is also only 35 hours, and the notoriously efficient German economy is the fourth largest in the world. Working fewer hours could also be one of the reasons that Germany has maintained such a low unemployment rate (currently sitting at 5.2%) compared to the United States (7.3%).
The British New Economics Foundation say the optimum number of hours in a workweek would be 30. In their book “Time On Our Side,” they argue that the 30-hour week would safeguard natural resources, reduce greenhouse gases, undercut unemployment by creating new jobs and benefit workers’ general health.
Ed. Notes: The length of the workweek does not have to be mandated. Instead, empower people to work as much as they like, as little as they like. The way to do that is to pay everyone a non-work income, an extra income derived from the value of nature and privilege in a region. Every society pays a lot for land and resources and to holders of government-granted privileges such as banking charters. Get government to charge full-market value (as would any business) for the little pieces of paper it grants and get it to recover the socially-generated value of sites and resources via taxes, fees, leases, and dues. Then disburse the raised revenue to the citizenry in equal shares. Enjoying that cushion, employees will be on a level playing field with employers and can decide how much to work.
Further, government could fatten the Citizen’s Dividend if it doesn’t tax people’s income, sales, and buildings. Out from under such taxes, people will produce more and more efficiently, which drives up land values. Government would funnel those “rent” increases into the dividend.
Once we’re liberated from often meaningless labor, will we define ourselves by what we do for work or what we do for play? “Hi. I pet cats and row across oceans. And you?”