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Work Hours Vs Productivity

How many work hours are required to strike the perfect work-life balance and yet ensure that productivity and growth are not adversely affected? This is a question, which many Europeans are answering by working longer hours, a shift from working less and holidaying more for many years, to beat competition from countries such as America, Japan and other rapidly growing Asian economies.

Beginning with the 1970s, Europe has consistently followed a philosophy of less is more when it came to labour, with the result that Europeans work on an average 10 per cent fewer hours a year than Americans. In fact, Germans, the lightest schedule, work about 18 per cent fewer hours.

This must also be seen in the backdrop of the fact that the French take an average of 25 days leave a year while the Germans get 30 days. The average in Japan is 18 days and in the United States, 12 days.

India, has an average of over 25 holidays including national holidays, religious festivals and miscellaneous. And interestingly enough, in a poll done by naukri.com in June this year, over 89 per cent of the respondents felt that a five-day work week would help raise performance and efficiency at the workplace as against an 8 per cent who disagreed.

Going back to the European experience, their job creation argument went well with the greater social incentive that they place on leisure. And clearly, Europeans have been willing to accept slower growth in salaries as a price for fewer work hours and longer vacations.

And for a long time, the price for long holidays did not seem to hurt as Europe managed to sustain high gains in labour productivity, which contributed to flourishing exports, growth in economies and steady wage growth.

But the late 1990s have been marked by stagnating economic growth, forcing a change in work-hour management.

France, for instance, already has the government attributing the blame for slow economic growth to the 35-hour workweek and the country is urging for employees to have the right to work more than 35 hours for higher salaries. The French, in 2000 trimmed their workweek to 35 hours in the hope of generating more jobs. In Britain, more than a fifth of the labour force, according to a 2002 study, works longer than the European Union's mandated limit of 48 hours a week. Germans are also resorting to extended work hours. Apart from raising the number of work hours, European countries are looking at new contracts that scrap the annual bonuses employees receive to help pay for holidays and Christmas expenses.

Clearly, one of the most tangible arguments for longer work hours of up to 50-hour weeks is increased productivity. But this is countered by many HR experts who believe that the 10-hour workday may lead to a fall in production, higher resentment among employees, apart from lower morale. In fact, it is often argued that employees who believe work is causing problems in their personal lives are more likely to make mistakes than those who have fewer job-related personal problems.

This explains why more companies are paying attention to employee-centric facilities for focused employees. In fact many organisations see a direct linkage between their competitiveness and the way they address employee issues with policies such as flexi-timings and parental leave.

So the focus has to be on more supportive workplaces, reducing stress levels for employees to avoid negative spillover into the personal lives' of employees, and improved career growth paths.

And one of the important lessons to be learnt from the European experience is that the logic that shorter hours, once seen as a way of spreading work among more people, have not been entirely successful in generating higher employment.

If that is the case, then Indian employers need to find better ways of striking work-life balance than merely opting for lesser work hours.

The term "work hours" is loosing its relevance in the knowledge based jobs. For example most of the IT companies have clear policies on work hours - say 9 to 5. It would be rare that this is followed. The critical factor would be to measure the productivity of knowledge workers.
The working conditions of IT Professionals in India is indeed very pathetic... anyone who has had an onsite opportunity would agree with me on this... The problem basically rests with in us... Since we are the youth we don't prefer democratic motions and don't get into protests... I guess no one knew that there was a IT/BPO Union in India, and they are now presenting our case against longer working hours... We need to bring our voice to the minister for Communication and Information Technology, Mr. A. Raja... and even to the prime minister... Have a look at this article in the facebook group
IT/BPO Voice of India | Facebook
read thru it and if you feel you should be a part of it join and participate in the revolution Voice of India (For greater India)... We need to spread the message...

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