I believe my people are among the top in working the longest hours. I have never understood (or more accurately, I do not wish to understand) why – additional hours do not necessarily correlate with increased productivity or efficiency, and most of all, it cannot be healthy for the body or the mind!
But it seems we overvalue working long hours, as it is evident in the salutes we exchange often at work… I find it to be one of the hardest expressions to translate, but it would be something like “good for you for working until you are exhausted.” It is used so frequently, I do not think anyone stops to think exactly what it means, but does it not sound sickening to be praised to work till you drop?
I even hear these days that some languages other than ours have begun to use our word for “death from overwork” (case of severe occupational stress causing physical and mental conditions directly leading to death) untranslated, implying that it is highly unique to our country and/or infrequently seen in other countries.
Maybe it is a cultural problem, behaving wrongly to work long hours based on the right belief that working hard is virtuous.
Maybe it is an educational problem, wrongly showing our children daddies exhausted from work and rightly telling them to thank him for his labour.
Maybe it is a business problem, wrongly imposing long hours of work on existing and experienced employees in the right effort to maximize revenue from their output and to minimize cost of new and untrained hires.
Wherever the problems may lie, it has gotten to a point where we must find solutions to cut working hours once in for all. We are beginning to see that it is not at all uncommon to find employees working overtime of over one-hundred hours a month for an extended period of time, or even worse, explicitly or implicitly being told to declare fewer hours of works so employers can avoid legal penalties.
But solutions must be implemented to correctly address the root causes of this bad habit of ours, or else right ideas can go awfully wrong and possibly exacerbate it. On February 24th, one solution promoted by the government was launched. Called “Premium Friday,” it encourages companies to close office at 3pm every last Friday of the month. Although I do not think it a bad idea to force shutdown on those who cannot decide to stop working on their own, if workload and efficiency remain constant, it will only result in shifting working hours.
Early results are showing that my concern is shared by nearly all my people. One study on fifteen thousand employees reported that over 90% knew what “Premium Friday” was about, a mere 7% were employed by a company endorsing it, of whom only half were entitled to leave work at 3pm, and only half of them actually did… that means the solution had impact on less than 2% of the working population. What a largely discounted premium it is!
Mind you, this was the first time ever to have a “Premium Friday,” so maybe it will grow on us in time. But I am afraid it will take a long long time to become widely accepted, and even longer if no additional solutions are implemented in concert with it. I can only hope that policy makers will not have to work even longer hours to come up with them.
As I make this post on March 17, 2017, our government has launched another solution, demanding, among other things, that overwork be kept under one-hundred hours a month even at busiest times. Both management and labour unions are expected to agree to it, though after much contest and protest.
But, again, I am finding the same flaws in it as “Premium Friday” and I do not see it as a measure that can appropriately eradicate excessive overwork. A long and hard bargain did result in some discount in the upper limit of working hours, but I do not (or more accurately, cannot) accept this to be a premium deal.
Maybe it will require much less hours if we looked outside ourselves for more effective and impactful solutions… maybe you can tell me how your people keep working hours under control?