Deliberate Rest

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Category: Work and working hours (page 1 of 4)

New report on women’s working hours finds that women are working more hours (you won’t believe what happens next)

Brigid Schulte points out A new report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research about “Gender Inequality, Work Hours, and the Future of Work:”

Technological innovation through machine learning, robotics, and artificial intelligence is likely to automate many tasks and jobs, thus improving productivity, freeing time, and allowing fewer workers to do more. Technological innovation presents an opportunity to rethink the distribution of time spent on paid and unpaid work, tackle the inequality in the division of domestic and care work between women and men, and provide time for upskilling and lifelong learning needed to benefit from future opportunities.

This first section of this report presents analysis on why work hours matter to gender equality, and what role time-related policies may play in reducing gender inequality, and more generally, social and economic inequality. The findings show women’s growing contribution to paid work and highlight that, as women’s average hours at work have increased, men’s have not declined. Inequality in paid and unpaid time has remained particularly stark between mothers and fathers. The report then highlights the growing inequality between those who work a lot and those who work intermittently, part-time, or part-year. In addition, the analysis shows that this polarization in paid time at work is increasingly exacerbating racial inequalities.

The second section of the report focuses on changes in the quality of time at work and workforce policies around scheduling, location, and paid time off. The report notes how a growing lack of schedule control and the absence of paid leave rights reinforce economic and racial/ethnic inequalities and are particularly harmful to parents. The report ends with recommendations to achieve a healthier and more equal distribution of hours worked.

The knock-on effects— lower promotion rates for professional women, lower rates of involvement by fathers who overwork, etc.— will be familiar to anyone who has a Google alert for whenever Claire Cain Miller publishes something new in the New York Times.

Anyway, the study is useful as another data-point in why we need a shorter workweek, and why it will have a disproportionate benefit for working women.

European traders talk about shortening their workdays

London Bridge and the Shard

In Europe, stock markets and other trading floors are open from 8 am to 4:30 pm, one of the longest trading days in the world. Now, two “professional bodies representing traders, the Association for Financial Markets in Europe (AFME) and the Investment Association (IA), have asked European exchanges to shorten trading hours by 90 minutes” per day.

Like teachers, stockbrokers and analysts are expected to put in substantial time preparing for the day; as a result, a day can easily stretch to ten hours or more. The AFME (pdf) notes that

Staff are habitually doing a ten hour working session sat at their desk in an industry where lunch breaks are often still frowned upon. This is not conducive to good mental and physical health. We would note that no firm that we are aware of prevents individuals from leaving their desk, but the prevailing and pervasive culture across the industry is that traders are at their desk for the whole trading day.

The working day is further extended since most traders arrive at least one hour before the market opens, to prepare, and stay at least one hour after the close in order to book trades, assist operations and look at after-market secondary offerings. The IA estimates that the average trader works a 12 hour day starting at 6.30am, representing a 60 hour week.

So why would a shorter day be good? They argue that it would bring several benefits.

London Panorama

Some of them are pretty familiar. For one thing, “a culture of long hours impacted traders’ mental health and wellbeing.” This line of argument will come as no surprise to anyone who’s followed working hours reductions in other high-pressure environments, like health care or restaurants.

There’s also the professional diversity argument: the long hours work against hiring women, and limit the professional lives of anyone with family obligations. “A 2019 survey that covered 129 buyside heads of trading globally reported that the best way to attract and retain more gender diversity in trading,” the AFME report says, “is to provide a better work / life balance. Employees are increasingly looking for more work / life balance when they are looking for jobs.”

London goods

All familiar stuff. But here’s where it gets fascinating.

As one article notes, “The first hour of trading often attracts little liquidity and subsequently is a more costly time to trade, while the final hour attracts around 35% of total daily volume. So a shortened day is a win-win for both traders and trading companies.”

The AFME explains,

The closing auction now consistently represents well over 20% of the daily volume in Europe. To emphasise the shift, around 35% of volume trades in the last hour and that increases to around 50% in the last two and a half hours.

The evidence of a distortion is not just apparent in the traded volumes, but also the actual cost of trading.

The difference in spreads, volatility, and market liquidity in the AM session vs. the PM session result in material differences to the cost of trading.

For a small 1% Average Daily Volume (ADV) trade on the FTSE 100 Index it would cost 4.4bps to execute the trade in the last 30 minutes of the day (excluding the closing auction), whereas the same trade in the first 30 minutes of the day would cost nearly three times more at 11.4bps.

Traders in the London market indeed tell us that the first hour is the most expensive time of day to trade. They consider that this is caused by the wider spreads and lack of liquidity. This cost differential further perpetuates the migration of liquidity to later in the day and a degradation in morning liquidity.

For comparison, in the US market, which is shorter in duration by 2 hours and turns over approximately 6X the volume of the European markets combined, there is still a cheaper cost of trading in the afternoon where liquidity is higher and spreads/volatility lower, but the differential in cost to the morning session is much smaller. This demonstrates greater stability in liquidity conditions over the day in the US market.

Because there’s not as much activity in the first hour, and trading is more expensive, eliminating it would allow traders more time to study charts and do other stuff, and cutting the last half hour would encourage more trading earlier in the day. In other words, “a shorter day will centralise liquidity, facilitating more stable trading conditions and price discovery over the day.”

A shorter trading day will be a more efficient trading day– not just “efficient” in the sense of humans working better, but efficient in the market sense of discovering prices and supporting trading.

London Eye with St Pauls

In other industries, it’s often the case that when you go to a 4-day week, there’s one day that’s really quiet and not much happens: one direct marketing firm found that its sales people made 90% of their sales by Thursday, and in PR Friday is known as a dead day. But I think this is the first example I’ve seen of a proposal to shorten the workday that argues that a shorter day will make markets themselves more efficient.

Computational devices

It should also be noted that, as in other industries, technology helps make a shorter workday possible:

Technology has advanced rapidly and the speed of execution has improved exponentially since the original market hours were established.

Firms advanced trading algorithms are now able to trade in thousandths of a second across multiple venues. The operational processes supporting trading have also evolved significantly, as such it is no longer necessary to have such an extended trading day. For example, the recent 90 minute outage at the London Stock Exchange (LSE) on 16 August 2019 did not result in noticeably less volume going through on that day.

There is other innovation too – for example, the LSE now offers a specific segment to provide investors with the opportunity to reduce time zone risk whilst accessing 6 exposure to global securities.

Finally, a harmonisation of market hours across Europe would address any concerns about liquidity shifting from any one market to another as a result of this change. It’s important that all the major markets in Europe move their trading hours together. Liquidity would not drift from one market to another as European markets would be moving their opening hours in concert.

The London Stock Exchange says they’ll think about it.

Marx on “What is a working-day?”

Capitalism is Boring
Oxford, 2008

From Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1:

“What is a working-day? What is the length of time during which capital may consume the labour-power whose daily value it buys? How far may the working-day be extended beyond the working-time necessary for the reproduction of labour-power itself?” It has been seen that to these questions capital replies: the working-day contains the full 24 hours, with the deduction of the few hours of repose without which labour-power absolutely refuses its services again.

Hence it is self-evident that the labourer is nothing else, his whole life through, than labour-power, that therefore all his disposable time is by nature and law labour-time, to be devoted to the self-expansion of capital. Time for education, for intellectual development, for the fulfilling of social functions and for social intercourse, for the free-play of his bodily and mental activity, even the rest time of Sunday (and that in a country of Sabbatarians!) — moonshine!

But in its blind unrestrainable passion, its were-wolf hunger for surplus-labour, capital oversteps not only the moral, but even the merely physical maximum bounds of the working-day. It usurps the time for growth, development, and healthy maintenance of the body. It steals the time required for the consumption of fresh air and sunlight. It higgles over a meal-time, incorporating it where possible with the process of production itself, so that food is given to the labourer as to a mere means of production, as coal is supplied to the boiler, grease and oil to the machinery. It reduces the sound sleep needed for the restoration, reparation, refreshment of the bodily powers to just so many hours of torpor as the revival of an organism, absolutely exhausted, renders essential.

It is not the normal maintenance of the labour-power which is to determine the limits of the working-day; it is the greatest possible daily expenditure of labour-power, no matter how diseased, compulsory, and painful it may be, which is to determine the limits of the labourers’ period of repose.

Capital cares nothing for the length of life of labour-power. All that concerns it is simply and solely the maximum of labour-power, that can be rendered fluent in a working-day. It attains this end by shortening the extent of the labourer’s life, as a greedy farmer snatches increased produce from the soil by robbing it of its fertility.

[Paragraph breaks added for ease of reading.]

Now U.S. labor unions are talking about a 4-day week

Unions in the UK have been talking about the 4-day week for some time, and now American unions are starting to take notice, Alexia Fernández Campbell reports in Vox.

Now labor unions are making the case for even less work: dropping days worked down to four.

That’s one of the changes unions are proposing as part of their vision for the future of work, which is outlined in a report to be released Friday by the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of labor unions in the US….

As technology makes workers more productive, unions argue, why not give them three-day weekends? Not 40 hours compressed into four days. Labor unions are proposing a 32-hour workweek, with employees earning no less than they did before.

It may seem radical, a change that businesses would resist. But Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, assures me it’s not.

“We are very serious about this,” Trumka told me. “If we’re going to free up jobs for more people, then we have to go there.”

The AFL-CIO has published a new report on The Future of Work and Unions. Here’s the section on working hours:

Predictions that artificial intelligence and other new technologies will make workers far more productive in the future have generated interest in the prospect of a “leisure dividend” that allows for the reduction of overall work hours. The key question is whether this “leisure dividend” will be shared broadly by working people.

Even if the predicted spike in worker productivity never materializes, there is a very strong case for redistributing work hours today—that is, for limiting the excessive hours worked by some people, thereby making more work hours available to those who want to work more, and giving all workers more “time sovereignty” over our working life.

The movement for an eight-hour day, followed by the demand for a 40-hour week, was driven by the U.S. labor movement. The authors of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 intended to redistribute work by giving businesses an incentive to reduce excessive hours for some workers and reallocate them to the unemployed and underemployed.

Passage of the FLSA ushered in a period of about four decades in which average weekly work hours steadily fell. In recent decades, however, progress has stalled, and U.S. workers work more hours per year than workers in most other developed countries. At the same time, there has been a recurrence of the problem of insufficient work hours for some and irregular schedules for many, especially for workers in the retail and fast food industries.

In a paper presented to our commission, Prof. Juliet Schor of Boston College, author of The Overworked American (1992), argues that reducing overall working time has the potential to produce a “triple dividend”: (1) spreading work hours to more employees, thus minimizing unemployment; (2) lowering stress levels, increasing leisure time and improving workers’ quality of life; and (3) reducing adverse impact on the environment.

Our commission’s Service and Retail and the Federal Sector Subcommittees recommend strengthening the labor movement by mobilizing around such big issues as shorter work days and workweeks with no reduction in pay for workers. Work hours can be reduced by bargaining or legislating a four-day workweek; earlier retirement; stronger overtime protections; paid holidays; paid vacations; partial unemployment benefits for workers whose hours are reduced (“short-time compensation”); and the “right to disconnect” from digital devices and work. Most of these policies would redistribute work hours to those who have too little work.

Insufficient work hours also can be addressed specifically by legislating or bargaining minimum work hours and giving part-time workers first claim on available work. Unpredictable schedules can be addressed by bargaining or legislating premium pay for on-call scheduling (schedule changes that occur without sufficient warning) and shifts that offer insufficient hours, as well as more worker control over scheduling (“time sovereignty”). Reforms to make scheduling fairer and improve work-life balance will be especially important in meeting the needs of workers, particularly working parents, enabling more of them to pursue their careers. If working people can bargain or legislate more time sovereignty and a “leisure dividend” without any reduction in our pay, this could be a key mechanism to help ensure the benefits of technological progress are shared broadly by working people.

I don’t talk much about unions or government policy in my forthcoming book SHORTER (US | UK), because for the companies I’m looking at, the move has been driven from the top (but very much involves everyone’s participation). So far, it’s happened in industries that are suffering labor shortages, losing experienced people to burnout or work-life imbalance, and see a way to convert technological innovations and productivity increases into time savings for workers, not just higher profits for companies.

These companies are very important as prototypes, in effect: they show that shorter hours can be implemented, today, without wrecking companies. But at some point, in order to move shorter workweeks from the innovators and early adopters into the mainstream, I think it’s going to be necessary to involve policymakers and unions.

Die 5-Stunden-Revolution

While SHORTER (US | UK) moves through production (I get the copyedits next week, and have a bunch of revisions to put in), there’s another book about shortening working hours that’s out: Lasse Rheingans’ Die 5-Stunden-Revolution, or “The 5 hour revolution.”

Lasse moved his company to a 5-hour day a couple years ago, a move that garnered a lot of attention.

It’s not yet out in English, but if you read German, it’s worth checking out. However, if you don’t read German, you can listen to my interview with Lasse, or read about his work when SHORTER comes out in March.

Planet Money on “Japan’s Worker Shortage” and working hours

Scenes from Tokyo

NPR’s Planet Money has a piece on efforts in Japan to allow people to work less:

Some companies in Japan are going bankrupt because of the country’s critical labor shortage. Officials point to a declining birthrate — which has led to a shortage of workers — and an infamously demanding workplace culture that is discouraging some people from entering the job market at all. This past April, Japan’s legislative body introduced a novel solution to these two problems: a law requiring workers to work less.

[The Japanese government hopes that] a cap on overtime could alter Japan’s work culture, bring new people — particularly women — into the workplace, and solve the country’s labor shortage.

You can listen to the episode below (if my efforts to embed an audio player worked):

Or you can read the transcript.

As I’ve written before, number of Japanese companies have been experimenting with different kinds of 4-day weeks: some big employers like 7-Eleven and Uniqlo offer workers the option of doing four 10-hour days per week, in an effort to give workers longer stretches of unbroken free time. Japanese e-commerce company Zozo is actually the world’s biggest company running on a 30-hour week.

How much do we need to work to be happy?

One of the objections I sometimes get to the 4-day workweek runs something like this: Since we know that unemployment makes people unhappy, doesn’t this mean that reducing the length of the workweek will make people somewhat less happy?

This assumes that there’s a linear relationship between work time and well-being. If 0 hours/week creates very little well-being, and 40 hours/week creates N amount of well-being, might it be the case that 30 hours creates (3/4)N well-being?

There’s a group at Cambridge that’s been looking at exactly this question, and they have a new article asking “How much paid work is needed for mental health and well-being?” Here’s the article abstract:

Daiga Kamerāde, Senhu Wang, Brendan Burchell, Sarah Ursula Balderson, Adam Coutts, “A shorter working week for everyone: How much paid work is needed for mental health and well-being?” Social Science & Medicine, In press, corrected proof, Available online 18 June 2019, Article 112353.

There are predictions that in future rapid technological development could result in a significant shortage of paid work. A possible option currently debated by academics, policy makers, trade unions, employers and mass media, is a shorter working week for everyone. In this context, two important research questions that have not been asked so far are: what is the minimum amount of paid employment needed to deliver some or all of the well-being and mental health benefits that employment has been shown to bring? And what is the optimum number of working hours at which the mental health of workers is at its highest? To answer these questions, this study used the UK Household Longitudinal Study (2009–2018) data from individuals aged between 16 and 64. The analytical sample was 156,734 person-wave observations from 84,993 unique persons of whom 71,113 had two or more measurement times. Fixed effects regressions were applied to examine how changes in work hours were linked to changes in mental well-being within each individual over time. This study found that even a small number of working hours (between one and 8 h a week) generates significant mental health and well-being benefits for previously unemployed or economically inactive individuals. The findings suggest there is no single optimum number of working hours at which well-being and mental health are at their highest – for most groups of workers there was little variation in wellbeing between the lowest (1–8 h) through to the highest (44–48 h) category of working hours. These findings provide important and timely empirical evidence for future of work planning, shorter working week policies and have implications for theorising the future models of organising work in society.

So it looks like there’s not a linear relationship between working hours and well-being. Rather, well-being rises quickly for the first 8 hours, then stabilizes. So just as a month-long vacation doesn’t provide much more happiness than a week-long vacation, a full week of work doesn’t provide more well-being than a day of work.

Or as the article’s conclusion puts it,

there is no optimum number of working hours at which well-being and mental health are significantly at their highest. This study finds no evidence that the current full-time standard of working 36–40 h a week is the optimal for mental health and well-being, when job characteristics, such as hourly pay, occupational group and contract permanency are controlled… [T]he average effective dose of employment for mental health and well-being is only about the equivalent of one day per week.

Clockwise and the challenge of taming meetings in favor of focused time

For my next book, Shorter: How The 4-Day Week Can Save the World (not the exact title necessarily), I talked a lot to companies about how they fit 5 days’ work into 4. All of them talk about getting meetings under control: making them shorter, corralling them into particular parts of the day (and never letting them escape), and making sure that the minimum viable number of people are there.

One of my favorite clocks— a screen with a video of someone painting the minute hands, then wiping them off, then painting the next minute, on and on.

So I was interested to read about a new company / product, Clockwise, that is “using machine learning to make the calendars we already have work better.“ The basic idea is to use Clockwise to consolidate meeting times, so rather than have meetings scattered throughout everyone’s day, people can compress them into particular blocks of time, leaving them more “focus time”— that is, time to work uninterrupted on other tasks. As one of the investors explains,

Clockwise can figure out which meetings are movable (like weekly 1–1s) and which aren’t (like staff meetings), and can rework your weekly calendar to give you back time to think & time to work.

I’m not sure why some kinds of meetings aren’t movable (maybe they are only if everyone involved is using the product?), but it’s certainly an interesting approach. I would note a couple things, though.

The Corpus Clock

First, most of the people I’ve interviewed talk both about improving meeting discipline— making them shorter, requiring agendas, etc.— and changing norms around interrupting other people. Focused time doesn’t just spring up like a jac-in-the-box; you have to make sure that people respect each other’s need for focus, and that you see your own good behavior as essential to the solution. (As traffic engineers say, you’re not in traffic, you are traffic; all that frustrated honking at everyone else who’s clogging up the roads while you’re rightfully trying to get somewhere obscures the fact that you’re part of the problem. Likewise, recognizing that everyone’s attention and time are valuable, and acting accordingly, is really important.)

If companies have shorter meetings, but the culture of the office says that it’s okay for people to interrupt each other a lot, you’re not going to get much improvement. You need to do both.

Scenes from Tokyo

Second, while the animation shows meetings all migrating to the morning to reserve focus time in the afternoons, this runs counter to what everyone I’ve interviewed shoots for. All the companies that have migrated to 4-day weeks or 6-hour days reserve the mornings for focus time, and leave meetings until the afternoon (unless you’re in sales, and even then you try to get better control over your time). This is a small point, but given how many studies indicate that we’re more capable of focusing hard in the mornings, it might be good for people to have to override “afternoon meetings” as the default.

Finally, the other thing everyone does is make meetings a lot shorter. There’s no facility for this yet, but it would be an obvious thing to try to figure out how the system can learn enough about different types of meetings to suggest meetings lengths, rather than just default to 1 hour (which has become a default for reasons no one remembers any longer).

Anyway, it’s promising to see a company take this approach, and it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves.

There’s no Reverse Parkinson’s Law

So my friends at the 4 Day Week Campaign have released a video about the 4-day workweek:

It’s a nicely-done piece of work, and if you want a 2-minute argument for the benefits of shorter workdays or workweeks, it’s a good one.

I do think it’s worth pointing out one thing that’s a bit more complex, which is that when you open up the black box of companies and see how they make 4-day weeks (or 6-hour days) work, you find that shorter hours increase productivity not because of Reverse Parkinson’s Law. It doesn’t happen automatically and effortlessly.

It happens because leaders and workers redesign the workplace so they can do the same work (for the same financial reward) in less time. It takes some time and effort to figure out how to cut out distractions and wasted time, increase productivity, and make better choices what to work on and how to work; and companies that work 4-day weeks work harder during those four days than companies that work five. But the upside is that, having done all that work, everyone gets more free time, more time to recover, and more time with friends and family.

It’s not just about efficiency: MADE Agency’s 6-hour day

One of the things about companies working shorter hours is that while they pay a lot of attention to tightening up their processes, making meetings more efficient, keeping email from running roughshod over your day and attention, and so on, it’s rarely just about improving operations. Rather, these functional things often are expressions of a deeper effort to create more balanced and psychologically sustainable ways of working.

For example, Norwich, England-based creative agency MADE moved to a 6-hour workday in late 2017. Like lots of places, they wanted people to have more time to be more creative, to give people better work-life balance, and so on, but they talk about it in terms of “lagom,” a Swedish word meaning “just the right amount:”

This one little word has been at the very heart of every change we have made as an agency. It is more than a word; it is a behaviour, a mind set, a framework, it’s a contemporary idea that we really think the UK could prosper from embracing…. it’s not about making big changes, but rather making improvements to the small things which make a big difference.

As business manager Emily West explains elsewhere,

the art of Lagom is about making more conscious and mindful decisions to cut down on waste (both time and physical amount), to ensure life is uncluttered and productive and, crucially, to find that balance between not too much and not too little.

I often see in these companies that small changes can reflect big intentions, and that incremental changes can under the right circumstances have outsized impacts. In business innovation as in geology, catastrophists– those lovers of big paradigm-shattering disruptive innovations, of continent-sinking floods and earthquakes– get more attention, but gradualists– the people who see real change as proceeding from slow, modest improvements, like grand geological features produced from the long-term effect of natural forces– often are better at describing how the world works.

So in their case, what’s the key? The biggest thing they do for workers– and for each other– is to remove

unnecessary distractions, focus their minds on their jobs in short, intense bursts and give them more time outside of work instead.

We find an hour and a half of concentrated time (no phones, social media, even emails) in the morning and the afternoon has helped our productivity increase tenfold, allowing the flexibility and possibility to leave the office at 4pm, giving us time to attend appointments, do our shopping, see our family and friends, rest and enjoy ourselves after a productive day of work. We genuinely think that’s as good as well-being initiatives get.

It doesn’t sound like a huge thing, but it has a huge impact.

Emily West also talked about the 6-hour day at an event in Norwich in late 2018, a year after the company made the switch:

Norwich, by the way, has become a bit of a hub for shorter hours. A video agency called Curveball Media switched to a 6-hour day in 2016, and accountancy Farnell Clarke made the switch a few months ago. The town’s got a bit of a rebellious history– the entire town was once excommunicated in the 1200s after a riot between townspeople and monks– so perhaps there’s something in the water that makes people challenge authority.

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