Shorter Work Week Increases Employees’ Productivity

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Abstract

This research proposal is concerned with the assessment of whether or not shorter work week increases employees’ productivity. A group of 40 subjects comparing managers of selected small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the United States shale be selected. A semi-structure self-administered questionnaire shall be used to obtain research data. A statistical analysis of the obtained data shall enable the researcher to determine whether a significant difference exists between shorter work week and employees’ productivity.

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Introduction

The issue of employees’ productivity and the number of hours that they spend at their place of work has been debated for a long time now. There are proponents of this argument who posits that when employees enjoy a shorter work week, they are likely to become more productive. On the other hand, proponents of this argument contend that there is no correlation between employee productivity and working hours. This debate has especially been fuelled by labour unions intent on ensuring that employees get sufficient leisure time to balance their personal-work life. On the other hand, employers would also wish to benefit from such an arrangement, based on the assertion held by economists that reduced work week increases the overall productivity by employees.

Economists have argued that the flexible working hours provided by shorter work week helps to improve employees’ morale and by extension, their level of productivity. Furthermore, cases of absenteeism and reported injuries have also been seen to reduce with a reduction in the number of hours that employees spend at their place of work. These are instances that are attributed to employees’ fatigue, occasioned by long working hours. In light of this, there is a need to examine whether a correlation exists between shorter work week and employees productivity. Nonetheless, it is important for organizations that are keen on implementing the “shorter work week” program to ensure that it is able to address the shortcomings of the more common standards working hours, such as the lack of flexibility for employees to enjoy a more balanced work-social life. It is therefore proposed that a research study be conducted to evaluate the claim that shorter work week increases employees’ productivity.

Assumptions

In order for this study to examine whether shorter work week increases employees’ productivity, there a number of assumptions that it will have to assume. To start with, it shall be assumed that workers completing more working hours per week receive the same working conditions as their counterparts completing less working hours per week. Furthermore, the study shall assume that the workload of the workers is also similar. Moreover, the study shall assume that workers complete same number of hours per day, the only difference being less working days.

Hypothesis

Hypothesis

Shorter work week increases employees’ productivity

Null Hypothesis

Shorter work week increases does not increase employees’ productivity

Literature review

Ever since Juliet Schor published her book, “The Overworked American 2” which endeavored to explore the claim that an increase in working hours results in decreased leisure and increased workload for employees, employees’ working hours as a human resource issue has attracted considerable attention from economists and scholars. This debate was fuelled further when Arlie Hochschild released his book, “The Time Bind”, which emphasized on the challenges that are usually faced by “dual-earner couples”, in an effort at striking a balance between their personal life and work (Alluisi & Fleishman, 1982, p. 89). The issue has also been compounded by the observed demographics changes amongst the American labor force. A case in point here would be an increase in the number of women that are now working away from home, owing to observable labor force shifts. This has resulted in an increase in the cumulative hours that wives and husbands spend within the labor market.

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The idea of reviewing what has now come to be regarded as “the standard work week” has raised concerns about a possible reduction in economic output, not to mention reduced living standards amongst the American populace. However, there could be the likelihood that the economic costs associated with reduced work-week are quite modest. Ultimately, the ensuing social benefits to the employees could as well prevail over the economic costs. Blyton (1985, p. 72) opines that the standard of living of employees might actually be sustained when organizations adopts a shorter work-week schedule. There are a number of countries that have thus far implemented a shorter work-week program at the organization level, and still managed to ensure that the living standard of their populace remains high. A case in point here is the Netherlands. By exploring the economic effects are associated with ‘short work-week’, there is a need to draw a line between the overall outputs of the employees on the one hand, and their level of efficiency per hour, on the other hand. This is with a view to determining whether the overall labor supply would decline.

Even as we witness a reduction in the number of hours per week that employees work, there is the likelihood that some women could increase the number of hours they spend at their place of work, now that their husbands have more time to spend at home with their children. In addition, less working hours could result in a less number of aged people amongst the labor force. Consequently, the overall supply of labor may not actually reduce in tandem with less working hours per employee, on a weekly basis. In this case, reduced working hours per week may in fact assist in balancing individual worker hours, without drastically lowering the overall number of working hours for all employees (Salvatore & Diulio, 1995, p. 13).

Researchers have for a long time attempted to explore the impact of a short work week on the productivity of employees. Accordingly, advocates of shorter work week contend that it results in an increase in the level of productivity of the employees. Before the wage-efficiency theory had gained widespread acceptance, economists argued that increased productivity resulted in either increased real wages for workers, or a reduction in their working hours (Salvatore & Diulio, 1995, p. 13). With the emergence of the wage-efficiency theory, this trend was reversed, and increased wages were associated with a rise in the level of productivity of workers. Even as employment stabilization is regarded as a valid and worthy objective with regard to the issue of the reduced workweek, nevertheless the efficiency-week theory forecasts more benefits. According to this theory, an optimal weekly hour could result in a rise in the immediate labor force productivity, and also that of later generations. Although shorter work time virtues do not differ significantly from those relating to higher wages, nonetheless it is important to note that these are many.

Different organizations are always keen on increasing their productivity levels. When the shorter workweek is arranged at the organization level such that it is able to afford employees the flexibility that they need, and they do not also lose out on their pay, this acts to establish new work opportunities. Furthermore, employees are better able to afford additional leisure time. Consequently, they are able to relax and become more productive (Wilkins, 2005, p. 155). It is also important to note that when employees have more time dedicated to their leisure, they are able to strike a balance between work and their personal life. Accordingly, this ensures that their innovativeness becomes enhanced and by extension, their level of productivity (Wilkins, 2005, p. 155).

Until about the 1930’s, short working hours were thought to be a direct consequence of enhanced workers productivity in the United States (Salvatore & Diulio, 1995, p. 14). This is still an issue that is widely debated in Europe, with the result that of late, the workweek has witnessed a dramatic reduction, as opposed to the United States. Nonetheless, the resultant reduction in work time in Europe has failed to match productivity increase. The effect that a reduced workweek has on productivity is quite varied. For example, short work week introduction in the U. S. S. R. from 1958 to 1960 led to an increase in workers productivity by between 5 and 7 percent. Out of the overall 11 percent working hour reduction, only 1 percent of this resulted from workforce increase. The other 10 percent was due to enhanced technical and organizational planning (Lajeunesse, 1999, p. 8).

A survey that was carried out in Germany during the 1970s with the intention of assessing the extent to which loss in productivity by workers in proportion to reducing their working hours could have been counterbalanced by an enhanced industrial capacity for the workers. This survey arrived at a conclusion that it was possible to recover 65 percent of output loss by reducing the working hours of the employees to 9 on a daily basis, down from 10. When the working hours were reduced to 8, the output loss recovery was seen to reduce to 45 percent. It further dropped to 36 percent when the working hours were later to 7 hours. What this appears to suggest is that when workers are subjected to shorter work-week, their level of efficiency increases, and hence productivity increases.

There are researchers who have noted that an increase in the number of working hours per worker on a weekly basis leads to rising absenteeism level. Wilkins (2005, p. 160) argues that amongst various industries, increased working hours usually translates into a decrease in the overall productivity. Further, the author posits that when workers have more rest days per week, this act to sustain their output levels. When the British government was compelled to enforce a 3-day emergency workweek following a national strike by workers at the coal mines in 1973, this reduction in work schedule prevailed for a total of 4 months. Upon the coming to an end of the prevailing crisis, Industrial production had only reduced by a mere 6 percent, and this startled economists. Apparently, enhanced productivity, coupled with absenteeism drop, acted to cover the gap left by the loss in production, owing to the adopted schedule of shorter working hours.

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The emergence of the shorter-workweek program has been attributed to the actions of trade unions to compel the industrial society to ensure that the workers enjoy flexibility in their working schedule. Margo (1998) argues, “I n explaining the decline in weekly hours, historians have traditionally emphasized the twin roles of organized labor and the State. According to this view, employers steadfastly resisted a decline in the weekly hours and they could only be convinced by strike or government edict. The union push for shorter hours essentially began in the late 1820sand early 1830s as workers in Philadelphia,Bos ton and New York clamored for a 10 hour day…leading to the passage of the first ‘maximum hours’ laws in New Hampshire (1847) and Pennsylvania (1849)” (p. 232).

Following the suggestion offered by economists those shorter working hours per week could enhance productivity, and this could explain why an increasingly large number of modern industrialists are embracing this concept. Blyton (1985, p. 139) has argued that a majority of the managers views a shorter work-week as a morale to employees to increase their productivity, and this could explain why they have been keen on implementing it. This is especially the case for those jobs that are not demanding physically and mentally. This is an important perspective of viewing the correlation between reduced working hours of employees per week, and the impact this has on their overall productivity, since when workers are overworked, they tend to become fatigued, and this will in effect lower their productivity, increase the potential number of accidents at the place of work, and absenteeism.

Additional benefits for the implementation of a reduced work-week program at an organisational level include less overtime and increased rates of recruitment. Nonetheless, there are a number of studies that have sought to criticize the claim that shorter work week translates into increased employee productivity. For example, Lajeunesse (1999, p. 9) found out that lower absenteeism was a trend observed throughout the year in a pharmaceutical organization that they were investigating, as opposed to a “short-term effect” of reduced work-week program. In the same way, Margo (1998, p. 235) has reported that supervisor-related performance and job satisfaction was exceedingly higher for a group that worked for a 40 hour schedule spaced into 4 days per week, after a period of 13 months of implementation. On the other hand, job satisfaction was found to be lower for a control group to the same study that worked for 40 hour schedule spaced in 5 days, for a similar period of time.

From another perspective, shorter work week may result in increased employees’ productivity because such employees could perceive that the organization now requires them to complete the same amount of work as they did when the working hours had not been reduced. As a result, there is a tendency amongst the employees to work even harder so that they are in a position to produce the same results as they did before. Also, employees could also be worried that the organization will be more interested in the performance of the employee, and this may act as a motivation for them to work harder to meet the management’s expectation (Wilkins, 2005, p. 164). However, both of these strategies are short-term.

Furthermore, they associated with fear, and this could in the long-term affect the overall productivity of the employees. When employees get used to the program of short work week, there could be a resultant reduction in their overall levels of stress, as concerns the nature of the job that they are expected to handle (Wilkins, 2005, p. 164). Accordingly, there may be the tendency for employees to assume their old habits, thereby reducing productivity. It is important therefore for the organization that wishes to implement short working hours to ensure that they use other forms of employee motivation, other than those that are short-term in nature, and informed by fear.

Methodology

Subjects

The subjects for this particular survey shall be the managers of selected small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the United States. In this case, the study anticipates recruiting a total of 40 subjects to take part in this survey.

Instrument

A semi-structured self-administered questionnaire shall be used to the study subjects for purposes of assessing their responses regarding the correlation between reduced work-week and increased productivity at their respective organizations. It is the intention of this study to collect quantitative as well as qualitative data. The qualitative part of the semi-structured questionnaire shall be designed in the form of a ‘five point likert scale’ ranging from strongly agree, to strongly disagree. The intention is to obtain the valid responses of the study subjects on the issue of whether or not shorter work week increased employees’ productivity. By applying qualitative and quantitative data, the study shall aim at overcoming a possible risk of bias as a result of primary data triangulation. Accordingly, the application of a semi-structured questionnaire becomes valid for as Sims (1999) notes, it is easy to analyse, economic, fairly easy to complete, and hence it suits this particular study.

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Procedures

Prior to the administering of the questionnaire to the study subject, consent shall be sought from the institution of learning in which this researcher is a student. In addition, the researcher shall send an e-mail to the potential subjects, with the intention of seeking their consent to take part in the survey. The study questionnaire shall be sent to the subjects via e-mail, a phone call shall then follow, to confirm the receipt of the questionnaire by the subjects. Once the subjects have completed out the questionnaire, they shall be advised to send it back to the researcher. Ethical considerations shall be followed out throughout the process of data collection. For example, the information obtained from, the subjects through the questionnaire shall be held in strict confidence. Furthermore, such information shall only be used for purposes of informing the study.

Analysis

Statistical tools of data analysis shall be employed. In this case, the Scientific Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) will be used for purpose of testing the study hypothesis. The intention will be to draw a correlation (or lack of) between the study variables: shorter work week and employees’ productivity. A qualitative analysis of the data collected using the semi-structured questionnaire shall enable the researcher to explore the attitudes and perceptions of the subjects on whether or not the productivity of employees increases with shorter work week. If the study finds that shorter work week increases employees’ productivity, then the hypothesis shall be accepted. In the responses given by the subjects indicates that shorter work week does not increase the productivity of the employees, then the study shall instead accept the null hypothesis.

Limitations

The researcher anticipates this survey to be limited in terms of the time allocated for its completion. As a result, the researcher shall not be in a position to explore additional research objectives as they would have wished to. Another limitation for the study is that of cost. With a small budget with which the researcher has to work with to complete this study, this shall limit the number of potential subjects that could have been included in the study. Another limitation for the study is the subjects, in this case the managers of the organizations in which the employees work. In this case, the responses given shall be those of the employers as they regard the issue of employees’ productivity in relation to shorter workweek. This means that the point of view of the employees shall not be taken into account.

Discussion

It is expected that the study shall reveal a positive correlation between shorter workweek and employees’ productivity. In other words, those employees that gets additional rest hours per week are expected to be more productive, when compared with their counterparts that spend more time at the office. The study also expects that employees that work less hours at their place of work manifest high level of motivation, when compared to their counterparts who spend more time at the work place. Furthermore, a positive correlation is expected between the absenteeism and injury case at the place of work shall be less for those employees that are exposed to shorter work week, in comparison with their counterparts that are not exposed to it.

This study would wish to recommend that employers implement the shorter work week program, with the intention of helping their employees to increase their level of productivity. In addition, implementing this program shall also help the organization to increase the morale of their employees, because they will now be in a better position to strike a balance between their personal life and their work. Accordingly, they are more likely to become more productive. Since a shorter work week help to alleviate fatigue in employees, accidents and injuries at the place of work are also likely to reduce, and hence the need for the organizations to adopt this program.

Another recommendation that this study would wish to make is the need for organizations who are contemplating laying off employees due to reduced production, or as a cost-cutting measure, to consider implementing shorter work week schedules. The implication is that companies shall still maintain the workforce that they have relied on for long, and at the same time fulfil their objective of cutting costs. In addition, the overall productivity of the employees shall also increase, along with the morale of the workforce.

A shorter work week program could also become useful for both organizations and individuals, especially during a period of financial crisis. This is because when organizations shortens their working hours, there is the possibility of operating say, a three shift working schedule, instead of a single or double shift. In this case, the employer benefits from increased work output from employees, and this translates into increased revenue. Furthermore, the productivity of the workers is also likely to be higher, because they work for shorter periods during the week.

On the other hand, employees benefit by having more leisure time, so that they can attend to their personal affairs and relax. Again, this increased their productivity. It is important that those organizations contemplating on implementing shorter work week finds additional means through which they can motivate their workforce with. For example, they may decide to offer their employees paid leave, on top of the days that they are away from work, thanks to the adopted schedule of short work week.

Reference list

Alluisi, E. A., & Fleishman, E. A. (1982). Stress and performance effectiveness London: Routledge.

Blyton, P. (1985). Changes in working time: an international review. New York: Taylor & Francis.

Hochschild, A. R. (1997). The Time Bind: When Work becomes Home and Home becomes Work. New York: Owl Books.

Lajeunesse, R. (1999) “Toward an efficiency week – correlation between shorter workweek and productivity”, Challenge. Web.

Margo, R. A. (1998). The labor force in the Nineteenth Century. In S. Engerman and R. R. Gallman (Eds.), The Cambridge economic history of the United States. Boston, Massachusetts: Oxford University Press.

Salvatore, D., & Diulio, E. A. (1995). Schaum’s outline of theory and problems of principles of economics. McGraw Hill Professional, New York.

Schor, J. B. (1991). The overwhelmed American: the unexpected decline of leisure. New York: Basic Books.

Sims, R. L. (1999). Bivariate data analysis: a practical guide. New York: Nova Publishers

Wilkins, R. (2005) ‘Do Longer Working Hours Lead to More Workplace Injuries? Evidence from Australian Industry-Level Panel Data’ Australian Bulletin of Labour, 31(2):155-170.

Appendix

Survey Questionnaire

Hello. My name is (name of student), and I am (name of course) student, at (name of university). I am carrying out a survey titled, shorter work week increases employees’ productivity. Please, find attached a survey questionnaire for the study.

Your co-operation in helping fill-out the survey questionnaire is highly appreciated.

The outcomes of this survey are accessible to all participants. Data handling for the survey shall be kept in private. Personal data shall be only used for purposes of information this survey, and shall therefore be held in strict confidence.

  1. Name
  2. Nationality
  3. Gender
    1. male
    2. female
  4. Educational qualification
  5. Is it your perception that shorter work week increases employees’ productivity?
    1. Strongly agrees
    2. Agrees
    3. Neither agrees, nor disagrees
    4. Disagrees
    5. Strongly disagrees
  6. Has your organisation implemented a shorter work week program?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  7. How many hours constitute a working week in your organisation?
    1. Less than 40 hours
    2. 40 hours
    3. 48 hours
    4. More than 48 hours
  8. If you were to further reduce you current working hours, would this affect the overall productivity of the organisation?
    1. yes
    2. No
  9. Would you recommend to other managers to implement a reduced work week program in their organisation?
    1. yes
    2. No
  10. In your opinion, how does a shorter workweek increase the productivity of employees?
    1. employees have a better life-work balance
    2. employees’ morale increases
    3. Increases job satisfaction
    4. lowers employees stress
  11. How would a shorter work week improve the productivity of employees?
    1. By reducing absenteeism
    2. Increasing employee’s’ morale
    3. Reducing accidents and injuries due to fatigue

Thank you for taking time to participate in this survey.

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BusinessEssay. (2022) 'Shorter Work Week Increases Employees’ Productivity'. 12 July.

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BusinessEssay. 2022. "Shorter Work Week Increases Employees’ Productivity." July 12, 2022. https://business-essay.com/shorter-work-week-increases-employees-productivity/.

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BusinessEssay. "Shorter Work Week Increases Employees’ Productivity." July 12, 2022. https://business-essay.com/shorter-work-week-increases-employees-productivity/.