Sunday 23 October 2016

Let's call time on our counterproductive 'overwork' culture

Published 07/10/2015 | 02:30

The eight-hour work day is an overhang from the Industrial Revolution, but would Irish society be smarter, happier and more effective if we brought it back to a six or even a four-hour working day?

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The traditional 40-hour work week has been trimmed back to just 30 in some Swedish companies, leading to a boost in employee morale and productivity.

One Stockholm company called Filimundus, a children's app developer, is leading the way.

CEO Linus Feldt recently told Fast Company that the eight-hour workday is "not as effective as one would think".

Filimundus first brought in a six-hour workday last year by reducing the number of staff meetings and asking employees not to spend office time on personal tasks like social media.

Mr Feldt said this led to higher energy levels among employees, better teamwork and fewer workplace conflicts, as staffers were less tired and grumpy.

Elsewhere in Sweden, reduced work hours have been implemented for mechanics at a Toyota service centre, a group of nurses in a care home, municipal employees in Gothenburg and a variety of small businesses.

More than 80 years ago, the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that by 2030 few workers would be putting in more than 15 hours a week in the office. Now there's still a decade and a half to go until robots take on our more menial work tasks, leaving us humans to work shorter and more productive days.

But something has gone horribly wrong with the way we work.

It's all about longer and longer hours that lead to plummeting productivity, fractured home lives and the bleeding of the working day into what should be private time - and these days hardly ever is.

There seems to be an increase in roles where you can only prove your value to the company by spending long hours being a desk monkey, too afraid of leaving on time for fear of being labelled lazy.

Seventy percent of Irish professionals work longer than their contracted hours and two-thirds feel obligated to do so, according to a Morgan McKinley Working Hours Survey carried out last year.

One sixth of all workers work an extra three months a year more than they are contracted to and 75pc of workers said their work-life balance is being impacted.

A survey of over 8,600 workers by travel website Expedia also found that the average Irish working week extended up to 40 hours, longer than the average expressed in other countries, while the usual leave entitlement of 21 days was less than the majority of other European countries.

So many people I know work jobs that suck them into a corporate black hole that devours all their lives. They go to work each morning, go home, eat, watch some Netflix, sleep and go back to work.

They don't leave their desks for lunch and they don't have time to read anymore, go to see plays, or meet up midweek.

"Sorry, but I'm working late again," is the all too familiar refrain we give and receive.

And when you do finally meet up with those friends, their eyes remain fixed on the work phone and Sheila from the accounts department's emails.

They can only manage a semi-conscious conversation.

We are stuck in overtime culture, even though we all know that long hours are bad for everyone for any number of reasons, not least the fact that people work better if they aren't permanently frazzled.

Unclear objectives, lack of team communication and ineffective meetings are among the top time-wasters that workers around the world say make them feel unproductive for as much as a third of their workweek on average, according to results of a recent online Microsoft Office survey.

The Microsoft Office Personal Productivity Challenge, which drew responses from more than 38,000 people in 200 countries, rated workers' individual productivity based on responses to 18 statements about work-related practices.

Worldwide, survey participants revealed some interesting conclusions about the nature of productivity in their workplace, particularly the fact that even though people work an average of 45 hours a week; they consider about 17 of those hours to be unproductive.

Why hang around the office trying to look busy if you have done all your work because you need to wait until 5.30 to log off?

It's crazy for modern, 21st-century people to be trapped in a working day that was invented to maximise production during the Industrial Revolution.

Hopefully some Irish companies will think about reducing their working week soon.

After all, the Greeks work some of the longest hours of any EU country (48pc more hours than Germans), but their productivity, or output per hour, is relatively low.

And that hasn't worked out terribly well for them, has it?

Irish Independent

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