What are the unexpected consequences of shorter work hours?`
Interesting post by Arne L. Kalleberg, Leah Ruppanner, and David J. Maume on the OUP blog:
For many, work is increasingly interfering with their home life. Because of this, some countries are proposing shorter work weeks. But does this mean more productivity? Do shorter work weeks result in less work done? Social Forces Editor Arne L. Kalleberg caught up with Leah Ruppanner and David J. Maume to examine and discuss current debates arguing for shorter work hours and their latest research.
The findings suggest that directly legislating weekly work hours may have adverse and unexpected consequences. How might governments more effectively regulate hours worked, as we move towards a “24/7 global economy”?
The first question is whether legislating shorter work weeks actually results in a reduction of work. Or, are people feeling more compressed, strained, and vulnerable to work-to-family conflict. Existing research on implementing shorter work weeks (e.g. Sweden’s 6 hour day) suggest that employees are happier with their work lives and more productive.
Our study suggests that shorter work weeks may also make employees more sensitive to work-to-family conflict. We argue that this is the legacy of raising public consciousness about work-family issues. This should not dissuade governments from legislating shorter work weeks as other evidence indicates that it is associated with better employee outcomes. But, it does suggest that policy outcomes are complicated.
Are there any alternative legislative policies that appear to alleviate perceived work-family interference better than work hour regulations?
There is growing evidence that policy packages, rather than singular policies, are most effective in promoting a healthy workforce. The goal of governments should be to pair shorter work weeks with other resources. This may include expansive childcare provisions, sick and aged care provisions, and supplementing housework. This is a work-family problem and legislation should address both work and family demands, focusing on this problem holistically rather than focusing on one dimension exclusively.
Your findings present no significant gender differences in the effects of normative and legislated work hours on perceived work-family interference. Could you elaborate on the implications of these findings for countries where women still bear the majority of responsibility for childcare and other family matters?
We argue that this indicates a cultural shift in ideology in our sampled countries. We expected these effects to be highly gendered, with shorter work hours alleviating women’s work-to-family strain at higher rates than men’s. We would expect this to be especially the case for women in countries with highest domestic burdens. But, this was not what we found.
Rather, we found that all respondents (not just women, or mothers or parents) reported more work-to-family interference in countries with shorter work weeks. This suggests that there was a real ideological shift in how people viewed work and family in countries that legislated shorter work weeks. To explain this, we looked at trends from 1989 to 2005 and found that the percentage of respondents reporting preferences for less time at work increased in many countries over this time period. This suggests that a cultural shift for all workers rather than being isolated to one group.
Your findings show that collectivist societies report lower work-family interference despite longer work hours. Do you think this pattern can be explained by stronger multi-generational support systems among families in collectivist societies, or is this a matter of lower cultural awareness of work-time issues? . . .
As automation increases with AI taking a greater role, the work week is not only get shorter, for many it will vanish altogether: there will not be enough work to go around. See Kevin Drum’s post “Self-Driving Trucks Are a Canary in the Coal Mine.”