Our Hours Lie Over the Ocean

Posted by: Michael Mandel on September 22

I’ve been thinking a lot about overwork recently (see my new cover story, “The Real Reasons Why You are Working So Hard”). The U.S. has grown much faster than Europe, and at the same time a lot of people in the U.S. has been working longer and longer hours, while Europe has been working shorter hours.

Hours and growth may be connected. In my cover story, I talk about how globalization and information technology may be causing people to work longer hours, since they cannot give up their old tasks.

But the causality may go the other direction as well. It may be that information technology only has a productivity-enhancing effect if you are prepared to put in a lot of extra hours learning how to put it to good use. You are doing your old job, and learning about the new stuff at the same time. Extra time and extra payoff.

For example, imagine a journalist (much like me), attached to a print magazine. The magazine has to come out, week after week, and those demands don’t stop.

At the same time, though, this journalist has to spend time getting up to speed on blogging, online collaborations, and so forth. More hours…but that’s the only way to success.

If you have a culture where those long hours are not acceptable, then the learning process takes much longer.

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Reader Comments

Lord

September 23, 2005 02:21 PM

Isn't the true measure of well-being GDP per hour worked? America doesn't do too well in that regard. Europe invests more in education but growth really needs entrepreneurship where they have been lacking.

Wes

September 29, 2005 02:19 PM

Michael: I finally read your article, very well written.

I think the economy would become more efficient if we would go away from time-based productivity to output-based.

Mgmt is wrong to think that the employee putting in 55 hours of work a week is automatically doing more than the person working 30 hours a week. I've worked with a lot of people who love to pad their time making them look like they get lots and lots done -- when the opposite is true. I've worked with people who can do as much work in 30 hours as some do in 60. Why would we reward inefficiency like that?

I hate working with people who go to great pains to show they are doing extra - "Oh I've already put in 50 hours and it's only Wednesday", or sending emails at 2 a.m. and pointing out the time. In my experience, those are the people taking 20-minute smoke breaks each hour or sitting in the cafeteria gossiping for hours at a time.

I once worked for a company that gave "bonuses" for extra billable hours. I knew the system was broke when the office is full on Sunday of people surfing the internet and cleaning their desks, just to increase their hours and get the so-called "efficiency" bonus.

Joe

September 30, 2005 12:32 PM

Why do they only have 2 shifts for management at a big box store that is open 24 hrs? This is a permanent system for long hours with no hope of ever cutting them. The store doesn't gain anything in terms of innovation or learning by having 2 people do the job of 3. One factor that I didn't see in why we are working so hard is health care. In European countries where the government pays for health care the cost of the company for each employee is less than it is here. We have to work extra hours because it is cheaper to pay us to work longer than it is to hire someone new. At one big box store they looked at the 8 hour shift but tabled the idea because the managers could not afford the pay cut that would be necessary to implement the new hours.

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About

Michael Mandel, BW's award-winning chief economist, provides his unique perspective on the hot economic issues of the day. From globalization to the future of work to the ups and downs of the financial markets, Mandel-named 2006 economic journalist of the year by the World Leadership Forum-offers cutting edge analysis and commentary.

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