In Praise of Loafing

It’s time to start working a three-day week. Why? The evidence is overwhelming.

First, there was a report (dutifully and previously blogged by me) that overwork contributes to global warming. A powerful enough reason right there. But wait–there’s more!

Second, Lisa Belkin recently wrote an article titled Time Wasted? Perhaps It’s Well Spent in the New York Times that summarized more recent research:

American workers, on average, spend 45 hours a week at work, but describe 16 of those hours as “unproductive,” according to a study by Microsoft. America Online and Salary.com, in turn, determined that workers actually work a total of three days a week, wasting the other two. And Steve Pavlina, whose Web site (stevepavlina.com) describes him as a “personal development expert” and who keeps incremental logs of how he spends each working day, urging others to do the same, finds that we actually work only about 1.5 hours a day. “The average full-time worker doesn’t even start doing real work until 11:00 a.m.,” he writes, “and begins to wind down around 3:30 p.m.”

Various and sundry other experts are quoted, including one who says workers “are like athletes in that they are most efficient in concentrated bursts. Elite athletes ‘play a set of tennis, a down of football or an inning of baseball and have a pause in between,’ he says. Working energy, like physical energy, ‘is best used in spurts where we work hard on a few focused activities and then take a brief respite,’ he says.”

Then, a possible alternative:

A few companies are taking the concept of “watch what I produce, not how I produce it” even further. At the headquarters of Best Buy in Minneapolis, for instance, the hot policy of the moment is called ROWE, short for Results Only Work Environment.

There workers can come in at four or leave at noon, or head for the movies in the middle of the day, or not even show up at all. It’s the work that matters, not the method. And, not incidentally, both output and job satisfaction have jumped wherever ROWE is tried.

I’m not much for movies in the middle of the day, but it still sounds like a fun experiment. Then again, Best Buy might be a good place to work, but as a place to shop? Not so much.

Finally, I stumbled across an article by AP that quotes the International Labour Organisation (note the Brit-spelling) as saying that “More than 600 million people worldwide work excessively long hours, with Peruvians topping the list and Britons the worst offenders amongst rich nations.”

“The good news is that progress has been made in regulating normal working hours in developing and transition countries, but overall the findings of this study are definitely worrying,” said Jon C. Messenger, co-author of the ILO study.

The ILO says shorter working hours benefit workers’ health and family lives, reduce accidents at the workplace and generally make workers more productive.

(I added the bold. Just, you know, to hit you over the head with it.) Anyhow, I’d write more, but my short burst is about up, and it’s time for a brief respite. Or a not-so-brief respite.

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