Working hours, productivity – and gender

A really interesting paper by Briony Harris from the World Economic Forum shows how reducing working hours can lead to increased productivity.  The first point that struck me is that the will-writing company that forms the initial case study employs 200 people – just how many wills do Kiwis need written?  The second, more significant, point is that the company simply chopped a day off the staff’s working week without reducing pay or conditions and got the same results from them, with far higher levels of job satisfaction and staff commitment.

The paper goes on to look at the relationship between working hours and productivity across a whole range of countries.  It notes that South Korea and Japan are both countries which have very long working hours and low rates of productivity.    Now these countries are exactly the ones that illustrate the Paula Principle most dramatically.  In  both, women achieve very high levels of qualification, right up near the top of all OECD countries in the proportions of women who complete secondary education and go on to higher education.  And in both, the gender pay gap is exceptionally high – nearing 40% in the case of South Korea.

The lesson surely is that shorter working days and weeks – and even shorter working years – are often a clear route to several desirable objectives:  not just a better worklife balance and higher productivity, but a more appropriate use of women’s competences and better careers for them.   Several wins there.

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