The cult of overwork is the prevailing belief that the more hours people work, the better for the company. That notion is not only harmful, it is dead wrong, as this story from Arlie Hochschild’s book The Time Bind demonstrates.
One executive, Doug Strain, the vice chairman of ESI, a computer company in Portland Oregon, saw the link between reduced hours for some and more jobs for others. At a 1990 focus group for CEOs and managers, he volunteered the following story:
When demand for a product is down, normally a company fires some people and makes the rest work twice as hard. So we put it to a vote of everyone in the plant. We asked them what they wanted to do: layoffs for some workers or thirty-two-hour workweeks for everyone. They thought about it and decided they’d rather hold the team together. So we went down to a thirty-two-hour-a-week schedule for everyone furing a down time. We took everybody’s hours and salary down – executives too.
But Strain discovered two surprises.
First, productivity did not decline. I swear to God we get as much out of them at thirty-two hours as we did at forty. So it’s not a bad business decision. But second, when economic conditions improved, we offered them one hundred percent time again. No one wanted to go back!
Never in our wildest dreams would our managers have designed a four-day week. But it’s endured at the insistence of our employees.
Interesting, huh? They cut back work-hours but production remains the same.