Work less, produce more

About 50 years ago in my youth I remember we were told that in the future, everyone would work a shorter week. My impression in general is that people in work are actually working longer.

Iceland is now proposing to shorten the standard working week from 40 to 35 hours. The Grapevine points out:

The bill points out that other countries which have shorter full time work weeks, such as Denmark, Spain, Belgium, Holland and Norway, actually experience higher levels of productivity. At the same time, Iceland ranked poorly in a recent OECD report on the balance between work and rest, with Iceland coming out in 27th place out of 36 countries.

The bill also points out that a recent Swedish initiative to shorten the full time work day to six hours has been going well, with some Icelanders calling for the idea to be taken up here. In addition, the bill also cites gender studies expert Thomas Brorsen Smidt’s proposal to shorten it even further, to four hours.

Here’s the graph:

work hours_217_cropped

Australia is near the top of the list.

Over the course of a year the average US worker puts in 1728 hours, compared to 1411 for a German. In effect the US worker works two months longer.

The suggestion is that the fewer hours we work, the more productive we become. Up to a point, I’d suggest.

Coming to think of it, when I joined the public service back in 1969 the standard week was 36 and a quarter hours. It’s just that for professionals with any seniority, that meant nothing. On a long term basis I worked about 60 hours a week.

On one occasion during the 1970s we surveyed the working hours of the professional staff over six months. The shortest anyone worked was 45 hours. I did an insane 82 hours per week. I’m proud of how dedicated we were, but I regret everything else, including allowing it to happen. I’d suggest that productivity drops off quite markedly beyond the 45 hour mark.

I wonder how Joe Hockey defines ‘lifters’ and ‘leaners’! Certainly life-work balance is a legitimate public policy area.