Are You Part of America’s Overwork Problem?

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According to political economist Robert Reich, the average American takes just two weeks off a year and one in four don’t get paid when they do so. With this in mind, American companies should be producing more than those based in countries where workers take more down time, right?

Not so: Germany recently topped OECD’s ranks of countries with the most productive employees, where productivity was a measure of annual hours worked plus the country’s GDP. The average German works just 35 hours a week and gets between 29-33 paid days off a year.

Overwork Costs Businesses Money

It sounds counterintuitive. Until you understand the quality versus quantity argument is much more than just a supposition.

You probably know this from first hand experience: You had a big project deadline to deliver on, so you put in a load of dawn-to-midnighters the week before. You got the project done, but the next day you got sick and had to take a couple of days off. Or worse, you had a tantrum about how unappreciated and overworked you feel, screamed at your boss, and quit.

John Pencavel, Stanford University, notes that with the negative effects of absenteeism and employee turnover, companies who encourage too many work hours could be laying out more funds than they realize. Pencavel also explains that there are further hidden costs that are small, but add up all the same.  

“There are ancillary costs of long working hours,” Pencavel writes, “such as the expenses of running complementary machinery and of providing light, heat, ventilation, and supervisory labor.”

Long Hours Could Get You Injured

When you are tired, you are more prone to hurt yourself. Little end-of-day misdemeanors such as cutting your fingers when preparing dinner or stubbing your toe on the dresser are much more common after a ten hour day.  So is denting your car; The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conservatively estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year

Claire Caruso, research-health scientist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, notes in a paper she co-authored with members of the National Occupational Research Agenda Long Work Hours Team that “long hours have been associated with motor-vehicle crashes, medical errors and myocardial infarction. Poor management of working hours could also carry a substantial human and economic burden from lost productivity, job-related injuries, healthcare costs and greater employee turnover as reported for round-the-clock operations.”

Work Fewer Hours: Work Better

Ryan Carson, CEO at Treehouse—a tech-education business that trains adult students for technology jobs—says that implementing a 32-hour workweek has helped boost employee productivity since the company switched to a four-day workweek in 2006. Maybe you should bring this up at the next all hands meeting? See how your boss likes that idea?

Realistically, unless you work for yourself, there is little that you as an individual can do to directly influence an immediate 32-hour workweek. What you can do however, is take control of your own stuff—cut back on the overtime, book that vacation, and have a look at your day-to-day activities to see where you can do less. This is where neat little productivity apps such as MobileDay come in. Letting our free app dial into a conference call for you may seem like a tiny step towards doing less, but it is a step nonetheless.


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