Most modern countries are seeing a steady rise in the amount of time people spend at work. There is some evidence, however, that this trend contributes neither to the bottom line nor to our overall well-being.
Esther Derby euthanizes the idea that long hours are a sign of employee commitment. She cites some alternative reasons people stay late at the office, including:
- One woman’s marriage was disintegrating and she stayed late to avoid tension at home.
- Another woman was using company assets to run a side business… and it was easier to hide it when people weren’t around.
- Two people who were having an affair stayed late at work to be together.
As for productivity, the sociologist Arlie Hochschild in one of her books mentions an IT copany that were in big financial trouble. Rather than lay some people off they switched to a 30-hour work week and a corresponding pay cut, and experienced no reduction in production. They did the exact same amount of work in 30 hours a week as in 40.
When the company righted itself each employee could choose to return to the original work schedule and pay or remain at 30 hours a week. They all chose to keep the short work week. Read the whole amazing story here.
A recent Danish study found that 90% of managers who worked 30-37 hours a week were satisfied with their work-life balance. Among managers working more than 48 hours a week, that percentage dropped to 46. The consequence: More stress, less job satisfaction and an increased risk that they will leave the company.
We’ve long known that reasonable working hours are one of the most important factors determining whether people are happy at work (and in life). Long working hours are not a sign if commitment and may not even contribute to business productivity.
Therefore businesses should stop encouraging (implicitly and explicitly) long work hours and start rewarding the people who go home on time. They’re good for business.