Time to knock off early …

June 2nd, 2016 Sections: Business, Calendar

5-oclockSome people are clockwatchers … someone who “watches the time closely, as in expectation of some news or event”, although the term is usually used to describe an employee that “demonstrates lack of interest in a job by watching the time closely to be sure to stop work as soon as the workday or shift is over”.

Well, I suppose that you could say that today is their day … it’s Leave Work Early Day

It’s not really an invitation for people to break their employment contract, but rather an initiative to try and get people to think about, and to strike a healthy Work-Life balance.

There’s the old joke about the fact that people who work to live (… their work is a means to an end – it provides them with the wherewithall in order to maintain their lives … to feed, house, clothe – and entertain themselves and their family) … but that there are also people who live to work,  (… who are so bound up in their work that it consumes all their time, energy, attention, etc. … dominating, if not completely taking over their lives).

 

As far as I can tell, Leave Work Early Day has been around for about ten years.  Apparently it was started by Laura Stack, (The Productivity Pro ® – that’s her registered trademark, not mine), who, among other things, advises businesses and people about how to improve  productivity.

She noticed that Americans (she is an American, herself) work about 49 hours a week, which is more than most Europeans, where the maximum working week is 48 hours … now, that might not seem a big difference, but this can be less in different countries – it’s just 35 hours a week in France … and on average amounted to something like 350 hours a year.

That’s the equivalent of more than two whole weeks … there being 168 hours in a week … seven times twenty four.

That’s odd because, because many people think of the 40-hour working week is really an American initiative, some attributing it to the influence of the Trade Unions … others to Henry Ford.

In fact … the idea has a much longer history … although the Americans, and Henry Ford, may have played role in getting it generally accepted … if not uniformly adopted.

The idea of limiting the number of hours someone works is really quite a modern concept, whcih probably dates back to the days of the Industrial Revolution, which brought about many changes to people’s lives and lifestyles.  In factories that sprouted up as a result of the technological innovations, a working day could very between 10 and 16 hours a day … six days a week!

In 1791, in Philedelphia, carpenters went on strike and made the first (at least I think it was the first) demands was for a limit to the working day … ten hours a day .

In 1810, the social reformer Robert Owen also called for a limit of 10 hours to be set for the working day in England … but seven years later he revised his ideas and adopted the slogan Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest. It may seem crazy to us today … but the idea didn’t really catch on straight away.

Karl Marx and many on the left argued about how important it was to bring about a reduction of the number of hours someone could be required to work in a day … and the call for an eight hour day was a rallying call for members of the Labour movement … but the right to a twelve hour working day was only won by French workers after the revolution of 1848.

At the end of the 19th Century … the average working week in America was still about a hundred hours … which is quite impressive bearing in mind that there are only 168 hours altogether in a a seven day week (seven times twenty four).

People were still spending about 60% of their lives working …

Slowly, but surely, the idea of placing some sort of limit on working hours … and America settled on the figure 40 (five days of eight hours) as the norm … possibly as the result of trade union activity and campaigning … and possibly thanks to Henry Ford, (who, like Robert Owen, took a bit of time coming round to that figure) … but probably thanks to a combination of both, along with contributions from some others.

Russia, incidentally, adopted the forty hour working week almost immediately after the Octyober revolution in 1917 … four days after the revolution.  That became the standard throughout the Sioviet Union, and we in Kyrgyzstan still work by that rule of thumb.  At least, that’s what it says in the Labout Code.

In actual fact, there doesn’t seem to be much enforcement of the rule … or of the other aggregate figures.  It is recognized in the code, for example, that some employees work a six-day week, not a five day week … but although that means their working day should be shorter, it isn’t always the case.

In theory, at least, there’s a norm of 160 hours per month – based on four weeks of forty hours … that is, twenty eight-hour working days.  Unfortunately, the calendar isn’t that obliging and in some months there are more, maybe twenty four, working days … and special calendars are printed to help calculate things like salaries, holiday entitlement and so forth.

Of course, working more hours should mean that overtime kicks in … but it rarely does.

In theory, if you want 24-hour cover for a post, (say for the reception desk in a hotel), then you have to have at least four and a half employees … preferably five in order to cover for absences such as illness and holidays … but that’s not always what happens.

If there’s a technical, legal, limit of 160 hours a month … then, how come some people end up working more than twice that? … because they work Krooglisootochka cherez dehn, (24-hour shifts every other day).

What ever happened to Robert Owen’s Equal hours for labour, recreation, and rest?

 

Why is this all important … and worth a postcard?

Because, after making her observation about the number of hours worked, Stack, (you remember her, the Productivity Pro ®), went on to say that working excessive hours can be detrimental … not only bad for people’s health and wellbeing … but also bad for business.

I’m not sure what Karl Marx might make of that because he saw the pressure for longer working hours as capitalisms attempt to maximum profits … and here’s a modern day ‘business guru’ saying that, on the contrary, they are damaging to business!

Just as slavery was niot just demeaning and inhumane … it was bad economics. At first glance, the economics of Slavery might well seem like a good idea … if you think of it as ‘free labour’ … but, then, it’s not really free – there is a cost involved … and not just a financial cost.

Furthermore, as well as being detrimental to the health of the workers … people working long hours are more likely to be distracted – longing to be elsewhere, (perhaps fishing, perhaps simply sleeping, or perhaps ‘spending more time with their families’) thus reducing their efficiency and productivity – as well as demotivating them, making them sluggish.

She doesn’t say this – or, if she does, then I haven’t found it – but it also increases the possibility (probability) of errors creeping into their work … not only do they get less done … they do a worse job.

 

Stack argues that Leave the Office Earlier Day (or Leave Work Early Day … it seems to be known by a variety of alternative names) can provide an incentive for employees to complete tasks before schedule, encouraging them to make a conscious effort to increase their efficiency and productivity so they can go home sooner.

Personally, I am not convinced that a one-off day like this will do the job … which, I think, probably requires a whole different attitude and approach to work, a different strategy and policy for management …  but I do think that it is a valuable tool in getting us to think about the various issues involved.

 

As it happens, Kyrgyzstan has several Leave Work Early Days … because that same Labout Code that prescribes how many hours a day, a week, a month, someone should work also contains a provision that the working day before a National Holiday should be shorter by an hour … giving people time to rush home and prepare for the celebrations.

 

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There is one comment. to “Time to knock off early …”

  1. ian
    June 2nd, 2016 at 14:12
    1

    I missed reports of this survey last week … if I hadn’t I would have included it in today’s postcard:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/05/23/where-to-move-to-have-the-shortest-work-week/

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