Work Less, Produce More, Be Happy

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Michael-Taft

Does anyone really think that in the last hour of the last day of the working week that productivity is much above zero?

Michael Taft (above) writes

One of the main demands of the trade union movement in its infancy was to limit the working week. In 1866 the International Workingmen’s Association called for a 40 hour work week – a radical demand at a time of 60 hour working weeks.

It took well into the 20th century before this was implemented in the industrialised countries.

And now, in Sweden, there is a new experiment – the 6-hour working day, or 30 hour working week. It is not a law, it is not being implemented across the board. But a number of public and private sector workplaces are implementing a shorter working week on a trial basis.

Why? In the first instance, it is not about lowering unemployment though that will be an increasing consideration in the future with the rolling out of labour-displacing technology.

Rather, it is about increasing productivity, efficiency and health.

Here are some examples of the Swedish experiments:

In the Svartedalens nursing home, nurses have had their working day reduced to six hours at the same wage. This is a controlled trial and will end at the end of 2016 to assess the results.

A similar experiment is occurring in Gothenburg’s Sahlgrenska University hospital where orthopaedic surgery has moved to a 6-hour day, as have doctors and nurses in two hospital departments in Umeå.

At Toyota service centres in Gothenburg, employees moved to a six-hour day 13 years ago and have never looked back. Customers were unhappy with long waiting times, while staff were stressed and making mistakes, according to Martin Banck, the managing director, whose idea it was to cut the time worked by his mechanics.

From a 7am to 4pm working day the service centre switched to two six-hour shifts with full pay, one starting at 6amand the other at noon, with fewer and shorter breaks.

The Brath internet firm has a page on its website explaining why it is starting a six-hour day. The company, which has 22 staff in offices in Stockholm and Örnsköldsvik, produces as much, if not more, than its competitors do in eight-hour days.

And it’s not just in Sweden where this experimentation is taking place. In the UK, Agent Marketing is experimenting with a six-hour workday. Employees switched from an 8:30 to 5:30 shift to a 9:00 to 4:00 shift, with a one-hour lunch break.

This reduction in work is equivalent of more than one working day a week; on a monthly basis, it is equivalent to nearly a full working week; and on an annual basis, it is equivalent to ten working weeks.

All of the above, however, is just experimentation. Very few are actually proposing to introduce a 30-hour work week across the board. Currently, the headline cost would be extremely high in both the public and private sectors, especially as employees in these experiments are paid the same wage.

Further, we have to sort out our labour market, where a number of people want to increase their working hours because they are trapped in under-employment (though reducing full-time working hours could help).

A reduction in working hours will affect different sectors in different ways – a little easier in capital-intensive industries, more difficult in labour-intensive workplaces.

But the point here is that reducing working hours can actually increase productivity. Does anyone really think that in the last hour of the last day of the working week (e.g. Friday), that productivity is much above zero? Or that people at their desk for all hours are producing anything, apart from the image of being industrious to impress their boss?

Would the increase in productivity off-set the extra costs to enterprises in reducing hours? Probably not fully. It would require reconfiguring our tax and social protection benefit system – a hard task, but not impossible.

All of this will have to be measured, assessed and analysed. So why not set up a programme of experimentation? Select a scientific sample of workplaces in different sectors to implement a working week reduction trial.

This would require a pre-reduction analysis of productivity and efficiency to compare with the post-reduction output. It would require subsidies for those firms to ensure they don’t lose out during this experimentation.

Let’s see where that takes us. The decisions we make would then be informed by evidence and data, rather than prejudice and assumptions.

But the most important element of a programme to reduce working hours is the impact on people – the benefit in terms of health and well-being, work/family balance, the opportunity to engage in other pursuits with more free time.

What a boon that could be to people’s lives.

Let’s put on our lab coats. Let’s start testing.

Michael Taft is Research Officer with Unite the Union. His column appears here every Tuesday. He is author of the political economy blog, Unite’s Notes on the Front. Follow Michael on Twitter: @notesonthefront

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105 thoughts on “Work Less, Produce More, Be Happy

  1. Jimmy L Brooks

    You can’t treat the working man this way! One of these days we’ll form a union, and get the fair and equitable treatment we deserve! Then we’ll go too far, and become corrupt and shiftless, and the Japanese will eat us alive!

  2. Medium Sized C

    Quite apart from the rest of the post, which I haven’t read yet, Yes.
    I am almost always productive in the last hour of the working week.

    Before and after Lunch time on a Friday is usually a wasteland though.

    1. Janet, I ate my avatar

      I’m only productive the last day of the month or if I check my bank balance instead of the generaly prefered crystal ball method

  3. Rob_G

    It’s rare that I agree with Michael, but there is a lot of merit in what he says here.

    Conversely, if you were to propose to a heavily-unionised profession (say, for example, teaching) that you would pay them based on productivity, or by some metric other than number of hours worked/length of service, I’m sure that they would have an absolute sh1t-fit.

      1. Rob_G

        Do you know, I’m not sure. Exam results seem to be too blunt an instrument; education rubrics(?)

        At the moment, teachers get paid more for each year they’ve been teaching, regardless if their role changes or not. This has the effect of rewarding mediocre teachers over innovative ones purely on the basis of seniority, gives teachers no incentives to innovate in their teaching, etc.

        I don’t know how you could accurately link teachers’ pay to performance, but there must be a better system than the current model.

        1. MoyestWithExcitement

          Teachers are not motivated by money and are actually more interested in helping children and doing a good job. I know that must be a disorientating thought. Take a break there for a sec.

          1. Rob_G

            Teachers are not motivated by money

            – I’d say you are right there; they are among the best paid in the OECD, yet very average performers

          2. MoyestWithExcitement

            Another emotional statement from you about teachers. Are you blaming them for your poor life choices then?

          3. Anomanomanom

            Your joking or you must have went to a fantastic school. Where i work we have volunteers one of which is my old english/history teacher. In discussion another old teacher came up in the conversation and I was amazed the other teacher still had a job. He literally started the day with the line “do you lot want to do anything today’. I was told the school found it impossible to do anything about him. Iv found most teacher are like that. It’s a job and nothing else

          4. Painkiller

            Are you a teacher? Explains a lot about your spelling and patronising tendencies. And the fact that you have capacity to post your crappy, condescending, so-called socially just views on here all day.

        2. LW

          You’re talking about the incremental pay scale, which currently has 25 points. It doesn’t reward mediocre teachers over innovative ones, it applies to everyone equally.
          If you don’t have an alternative, other than saying teachers are bad, maybe you should find a different drum to beat.

          1. Rob_G

            “It doesn’t reward mediocre teachers over innovative ones, it applies to everyone equally.”

            – exactly: mediocre teachers get the same reward as very good teachers, based on how long they have been teaching.

          2. MoyestWithExcitement

            Have you considered that teachers will ask themselves ‘How can I help my students in the most effective way possible’ before they’d ask ‘How can I earn more money than my colleagues?’

          3. LW

            Yep, but those rewards aren’t exactly astronomical. And, again you haven’t offered any alternative to paying everyone the same for doing the same job, which sounds fair to me.

            If it makes you feel any better, Irish teachers also work hours well above the OECD average, so we’re getting a decent return on our investment

          4. Rob_G

            @Moyest

            – I don’t know; AFAIR, any proposed measures to gauge teacher performance were shut down by the unions

            @ LW

            “And, again you haven’t offered any alternative to paying everyone the same for doing the same job, which sounds fair to me.”

            – but that’s the thing, we’re not ‘paying everyone the same for the same job’; we’re paying very poor teachers who phone it in the same as excellent teachers who happen to have the same number of years’ service.

            I’m not very knowledgeable in this area so can’t propose an alternative; the current system to me doesn’t seem fit for purpose, though.

          5. LW

            Some people are coasting, but you’re going to have that in any organisation. What’s not fit for purpose now, the payscale or the education system?

          6. MoyestWithExcitement

            “I don’t know…… we’re paying very poor teachers who phone it in…. the current system to me doesn’t seem fit for purpose, though”

            But you don’t know how many teachers are phoning it in. It could be none for all you know so how can you say the system isn’t fit for purpose? Cause it just *feels* like that?

          7. Rob_G

            Very difficult to know, given as how the unions do not permit any form of benchmarking of performance.

            I think that the Irish education system is quite good, by and large, but given as we have no data to work from, we are just strangers arguing on the Internet…

            @ LW

            – just the payscale. There could be a brilliant teacher that qualified in 2013 earning a fraction of a mediocre colleague who happened to qualify in 2009 (again, courtesy of the unions); this is unfair.

          8. MoyestWithExcitement

            Very difficult to know, given as how the unions do not permit any form of benchmarking of performance.

            I think that the Irish education system is quite good, by and large, but given as we have no data to work from, we are just strangers arguing on the Internet…

            So if you have no idea, what prompted you to even say the system isn’t fit for purpose? You have no idea if it is or not so what led you to that conclusion? Feelings? I mean, by your own admission you have no data so I can only assume you have presented an argument about lazy teachers being a problem for our state system because it *feels* like there are a lot of lazy teachers. Is that all you’re doing here, then?

          9. LW

            The lower payscale is a sickening development, but that’s got nothing to performance measures. Hopefully it’ll be done away with thanks to FG’s shiny new recovery.

            Would you be in favour of introducing bonuses for teachers that consistently get excellent results?

    1. MoyestWithExcitement

      Yeah. Teachers. Something something lazy. Something something loads of holidays.

      1. Jake38

        Don’t forget something something early retirement on spurious health grounds and something something carefully timed maternity leave to avoid the summer holidays. They’re good too.

        1. MoyestWithExcitement

          Lol. Yeah they’re all at it. You lunatic. Buddy, it’s not your teacher’s fault you’re not where you want to be in life.

        2. mildred st. meadowlark

          That’s actually accurate, as regards someone I know. A qualified primary school teacher, who deliberately timed her pregnancies so she could maximize time off. She hasn’t worked a full school year since she qualified. Shameful behaviour, and it gives the ones who find teaching a vocation, and dedicate themselves to their students.

          1. MoyestWithExcitement

            Shameful? Bit out of proportion, that, isn’t it? And can you name any profession that *doesn’t* contain some people who’ll game the system for their own advantage?

          2. mildred st. meadowlark

            I find it shameful that she received a free college education back when it was actually free, during the boom, and went on to get a good job and is now bit even giving her students a full year of teaching. She’s exploiting her position, and denying young children some stability in their education while keeping another teacher from a secure permanent position, while she goes on to have six or seven kids, holding a job she doesn’t actually do, and has no intention of actually doing. Her focus is her family (and that’s fine) but she is part of the reason teachers have a reputation for stupid stunts like this.

          3. LW

            Can you find something not shameful in someone not having managed to work a full year since they qualified?

          4. MoyestWithExcitement

            “I find it shameful that she received a free college education back when it was actually free”

            Ok, grand. So, again, can you name any profession that doesn’t have some people in it gaming the system for their own advantage? Also, when discussing whole groups of people and how folks are making unfounded negative generalisations, should we take on board anecdotal stories about one specific bad example to validate that negative generalisation? Say we were doing that with, I dunno, Muslims. What would your take be?

          5. mildred st. meadowlark

            Hi again Moyest, sorry about the delay in reply. I’m not having a go at teachers, because a have a number of friends who are teachers and I know they are dedicated and hard-working and love to teach. I just meant to use my anecdote to illustrate a point. In the same way that not all single parents are scrounging lazy feckless layabouts, most are decent people trying to make ends meet and raise their kids, most teachers are dedicated and decent people who really cares about students wellbeing. But this woman is an example of a stereotype of the lazy teacher, and it does her industry no favours. I wasn’t attempting to generalise, my experience of one person is not law, so to speak.

            And it’s unfair to introduce Muslims, they are quite a loaded topic, as we all know. But I would no more do them the disservice basing my opinions on generalisation or anecdotal evidence, than I would teachers,or anyone else.

          6. mildred st. meadowlark

            But to answer your question, no, I don’t know of any industry that hasn’t had someone scam or exploit it in some way. That’s human nature, I suppose. But I find it sad that someone who had so many opportunities to have a great career following a great education, chooses to do this, neglecting her students and denying someone deserving of a place a secure job. That is just sad.

          7. rotide

            “Teachers are not motivated by money and are actually more interested in helping children and doing a good job”

            Just a massive generalisation you came up with earlier in the post so don’t bother to play the generalisation card. Feel free to start the ad hominiem attacks now.

            Now, why aren’t you attacking Meadowlark like you attack everyone else?

          8. MoyestWithExcitement

            “Just a massive generalisation you came up with earlier”

            Uh huh. I’m talking about negative generalisations. Good lad. You know like ‘Muslims are potential terrorists.’ ‘Actually, no they aren’t.’ Both are generalisations. One of those is a bad thing to say in public. The other is not.

            “why aren’t you attacking Meadowlark like you attack everyone else?”

            Everyone? Lol. Interesting insight into how your brain works there. Just as a matter of interest, why do you think I’m not?

          9. LW

            The major difference I can see between mildred and your own comments are that she talked about a specific person, whereas you attributed noble, selfless motivation to an entire profession. And then you tried to make it about Muslims? Twice actually.

          10. rotide

            “Uh huh. I’m talking about negative generalisations. Good lad.”

            Only negative generalisations are bad things? jesus.

            ” You know like ‘Muslims are potential terrorists.’ ‘Actually, no they aren’t.’ Both are generalisations. One of those is a bad thing to say in public. The other is not.”

            The first statement is true, the second is not. This would hold true if you replace ‘muslim’ with ‘Americans’ or ‘Irish’ or ‘Humans’

            None of which has anything to do with the hole that you are desperately trying to dig yourself out of.

          11. MoyestWithExcitement

            I don’t even know where to begin. As usual, you embarrass yourself by jumping into a conversation you don’t understand. You really shouldn’t be on the internet on your mid term break, anyway. Get out there and climb a tree like a good lad.

          12. LW

            Hahaha, moyest are you mocking rotide as a teacher in the same thread where you’re claiming all teachers are akin to divine beings, incapable of base motivation?

      2. John M

        Yeah. Teachers. Something something sabbatical. Something Taoisigh something. Something Hold My Job Will Ya something. Like, forever. Something.

      3. Janet, I ate my avatar

        Are you a teacher ? Some are great some aren’t , some are frustrated humans who are doing it as a fall back career after degrees you can do nothing else with who hate their lives and their students. Looking back I’d say I had great humans as teachers a out 80%.

        1. MoyestWithExcitement

          No, I’m just someone that will assume most people in a group are nice and honest unless given a reason not to. Anecdotes from people on the internet about that guy they knew one time aren’t a reason for me.

          1. MoistWithExcrement

            You are a conflicted piece of work, and malevolent at that.. and your only contribution is the promotion of higher spelling standards.

            “Nope”, what a Douchebag comment. Par for the Moisty course. A cornered rat that uses the escape exit without shame.

            What do you do for a living? With all this time spent on broadsheet, one has to assume the worst.

      4. MoistWithExcrement

        Wow, rivetting stuff from you again. You should run an evening class: barstool philosophy & personal bias 101

        Moyest = Heavy, heavy ass-gravy in whoppee cushion.

    2. Anne

      “It’s rare that I agree with Michael ”

      I don’t recall you disagreeing with anything he posted previously.. what has he wrote that you vehemently disagree with?

  4. Elizabeth Mainwaring

    My gardner Gaston in Beaulieu tells me they brought in this reduced work week thingy in in France a few years ago. Now he would like to work no hours for the same pay. Biffy in the golf club says this is the natural evolution of socialism. Happy days!

  5. Starina

    mind you, if they reduced the working day to 6 hours, Broadsheet would have no more commentors

  6. Cian

    If the last hour of the last day of the week is unproductive…. then I propose we ADD an extra hour to the week, WITHOUT pay.

    So the employees can be unproductive on their own time.

  7. garthicus

    My employer is introducing the 9 day fortnight, basically we will take a 1/2 hour lunch and work an extra 30 mins a day Mon-Thurs and have every second Friday off, for the Friday’s that we will be ‘on’, we will just work a normal days hours (0830-1700).

    I worked similar in Canada, one Friday a month off in return for 30 mins extra worked a day (we just reduced lunch to 30 mins).

      1. Peter Dempsey

        30 minutes isn’t great for lunch. I am more productive if I take the full hour and get some walking in.

    1. Janet, I ate my avatar

      How can you have a nice hot sit down lunch in 30 mins ? It’s frankly an unhealthy way to live. You can barely chew your stater in that time or decide which wine to go with the rest ! Civilisation is on its knees.

  8. Fionn

    Short hours work great in certain cases – for example it is absolutely crucial in air traffic control , otherwise
    people could die .
    But there are other sectors where there are no lives on the line where an 8 hour day is just fine.
    The software industry for example.

    I ma sure Michael Taft would love a nice short day, maybe he gets one already.

    1. Anomanomanom

      That’s not entirely true, where I work we have a huge mix of office, nursing, carers, household staff and loads more. From my experience although my job is not a danger to patients if your tired or working long hours, I would get well more done with a quick 15 min break and just work the whole rest of my hours. The ridiculous break times (when we actually have them) definitely slows productivity. And of course after lunch your just counting hours to go home.

    2. Anne

      “But there are other sectors where there are no lives on the line where an 8 hour day is just fine.”

      Yeah… there’s a knack too to keeping your eyes half open at your desk but getting 40 winks. You only give the game away when you head starts doing that dropping.

  9. John M

    In other news, shock horror announcement by Union-backed research that shorter working week is the way forward. For the same pay.

    1. MoyestWithExcitement

      Shock horror! Angry internet keyboard warrior takes issue with post about progressive labour idea because it was written by a member of a union. Nobody saw this coming!

      1. Mikeyfex

        Shock horror! Moyestwithexcitement considers himself the arbiter of social opinion, ruins internet page with condescension and generally d1ckish comments, wins no one over. Don’t read all about it, it’s exactly what you’ve come to expect.

        1. MoyestWithExcitement

          Shock horror! Weird little stalker that thinks he speaks for other people makes yet another meaningless post.

          1. MoistWithExcrement

            Shock Horror! Two stalkers.

            What’s the next issue you are reading a discharge for? Whether bras are oppressive? Whether the electric tin opener is affecting happiness levels in unintended ways? particularly in the white, middle class, educated male demographic.

        2. Deluded

          : D
          ‘I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig, you get dirty; and besides, the pig likes it.’

          1. Deluded

            I do too Anne but it’s a poor way to argue the point. At least you try to provide references and data and quote considered opinion. That way the other commenter must engage and communicate.
            Haranguing people makes them reject your view, and my view, out of hand.
            “Manufactured Outrage” is now a catch-all for considered opinion about structural inequality as well as ill-informed over-reaction.

          2. MoyestWithExcitement

            See, I’m of a mind that you’re not going to bring ego machines on an internet message board that, for instance, want to complain about lazy teachers despite not knowing how many, if any, lazy teachers are around to your way of thinking with logic and reason. This is a place where people come to procrastinate. We’re making words appear on a web page, we are not changing anything, so, everyone is mostly a sentient computer game character from where I’m sitting. I’m here for fun. If, for example, you feel the need to belittle other people in a public forum to make yourself feel good (like complaining about lazy teachers in our system despite technically not knowing if there are any) then I’ll have a bit of craic belittling *you*. I’m very good at is as well when you consider the amount of obsessive stalkers I have. If you want to kill them with kindness, Deluded, have at it but there’s room for both.

          3. Deluded

            They’re not stalkers, don’t flatter yourself, but if you have posted 23 of the same comment on a thread then no-one else can comment without stepping in your poo.
            Some people are procrastinating and spouting rubbish for their own amusement, that is abundantly clear. Others have conversations and try to avoid feeding trolls.

          4. Anne

            “At least you try to provide references and data and quote considered opinion. That way the other commenter must engage and communicate.”

            You are now deemed to have considered opinion going forward.. :)
            I’ll be quoting that. Thanks. Ditto.

          5. MoyestWithExcitement

            “They’re not stalkers, don’t flatter yourself”

            Nah, I think I will.

            “but if you have posted 23 of the same comment on a thread then no-one else can comment without stepping in your poo.”

            I’m not even sure what that means.

            “Others have conversations and try to avoid feeding trolls.”

            And others do both and don’t get preachy at folks who choose one or the other. You know, you can just scroll past my posts. Easily done.

          6. Mikeyfex

            I agree with Anne too, in that I’m on the same side mostly. It’s more that you have an extremely dislikeable demeanour and attitude so it damages your – and by extension my – position to the more rational viewer.

            You’re damn right I make meaningless comments, that’s my prerogative as I make ‘words appear on a web page’ to pass some time. And really? One reply for every couple of hundred comments you make and you have me on your list of stalkers? I guess you can’t sustain an ego that size without considering most things to be on the menu.

          7. MoyestWithExcitement

            “It’s more that you have an extremely dislikeable demeanour and attitude so it damages your – and by extension my – position to the more rational viewer.”

            And I don’t care. I’m here to entertain me and nobody else.

            “And really? One reply for every couple of hundred comments you make and you have me on your list of stalkers?”

            It’s more down to the occasional pot shot taken at me despite the fact I’ve never bothered talking to you until now…..and that one other time. *cough*

  10. Anne

    The remnants of slave mentality are still in effect in the U.S. I think.. it’s all work there.
    You can work for some companies there who’ll give you a week’s holidays a year if they feel generous. Maternity leave is practically non existent also. It’s all at the discretion of the employer too.

  11. Anne

    http://www.zpub.com/notes/idle.html

    Bertrand Russell.. (In Praise of Idleness) agrees with Michael.

    ‘ It cultivated the arts and discovered the sciences; it wrote the books, invented the philosophies, and refined social relations. Even the liberation of the oppressed has usually been inaugurated from above. Without the leisure class, mankind would never have emerged from barbarism. ‘

  12. MoistWithExcrement

    Moisty keeps a list of stalkers! And he thought everyone else was insecure and tedious. Human after all, albeit a condescending and disingenuous one.

    You should have been trolled off this site ages back.

  13. Anne

    I’ve a feeling Michael will be going back to the percentages and figures next week after this fascinating powwow.

  14. Niamh

    I’ve experimented with this.

    In my current clerical role, it takes on average 3 hours per day for me to accomplish my entire worklist. It mostly involves moving metadata around.

    I am, then, trapped in this Desert of Surrealism for a further five hours. I’m not allowed to read, listen to music, or do anything productive in this time.

    When I was a research student, I had the physical/mental capacity to work well, independently, for six hours a day, six days a week, so I consider that to be my natural way.

    I’m not, however, imprisoned in eight hours of persecution to produce three hours of work for no reason. It’s to ensure that I, as an animate skills-node, am too time-poor and demoralized to take arms against The Man.

    It also allows my crappier senior colleagues to stretch three hours’ work over eight hours and doss. They are sufficiently dull as people to find this a perfectly adequate means of wiling away their lives.

    I’m working on it. Me and the guy downstairs who agrees with me are desperately working on it. So far the only workable idea we’ve come up with is to shag intermittently.

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