Peter Fleming has a piece in The Guardian on the dawning realization that our working hours need a reset:
Following 30 years of neoliberal deregulation, the nine-to-five feels like a relic of a bygone era. Jobs are endlessly stressed and increasingly precarious. Overwork has become the norm in many companies – something expected and even admired. Everything we do outside the office – no matter how rewarding – is quietly denigrated. Relaxation, hobbies, raising children or reading a book are dismissed as laziness. That’s how powerful the mythology of work is.
Technology was supposed to liberate us from much of the daily slog, but has often made things worse: in 2002, fewer than 10% of employees checked their work email outside of office hours. Today, with the help of tablets and smartphones, it is 50%, often before we get out of bed….
Thankfully, a sea change is taking place. The costs of overwork can no longer be ignored. Long-term stress, anxiety and prolonged inactivity have been exposed as potential killers.
In his study of machines M.F. Passy quotes the following letter from a great Belgian manufacturer M. Ottevaere: “Our machines, although the same as those of the English spinning mills, do not produce what they ought to produce or what those same machines would produce in England, although the spinners there work two hours a day less. We all work two good hours too much. I am convinced that if we worked only eleven hours instead of thirteen we should have the same product and we should consequently produce more economically.” Again, M. Leroy Beaulieu affirms that it is a remark of a great Belgian manufacturer that the weeks in which a holiday falls result in a product not less than ordinary weeks.
We’ve known for a long time that overwork is problematic; but I suspect that it is becoming both worse, and more obviously counterproductive.
And the solutions are closer to hand. In my recent research on companies that have shortened their working hours, I’ve been impressed at how even in high-stress, demanding industries it’s possible to go from an 8-hour day (or really a 10-hour day) to 6 hours. We often talk about shorter work days or work weeks as nice in theory but completely impractical; in fact, they’re both nice in theory, and entirely practical. You don’t have to be a political radical, or motivated mainly by desires to redistribute wealth or spread employment (though both can be laudable goals); you can be interested in creating a company that is stable, profitable, and built for the long term, and see shorter hours as a great way to help you reach those goals.