A recent OECD study has suggested that shorter working hours could yield greater productivity. Although this is good news for a global economy always keen to do more with less, it is also giving rise to unhelpfully prescriptive legislation set to actively restrict working hours. This is a troublesome development for businesses with international interests, where an hour in the morning might save three on the other side of the world. Research is there to inform us and legislation to protect us but the rest, in my opinion, should be left for the professionals to decide on.
In a restrictive (but admittedly temporary) ruling the city of Gothenburg in Sweden is trialling a six-hour workday for its public-sector sorts and it’s a notion that’s gathering weight throughout Scandinavia.
The principle is sound. Let’s consider the time we spend in the office – it suggests – and let's not overdo it unnecessarily. Agreed. But let’s also consider that research alone shouldn’t be enough to rewrite the way we know businesses works. And, come to think of it, how effectively can a public office in Sweden serve its people when its shutters close so long before the rest of the working world?
It’s obviously important not to lambast weary staff into worrying away their beauty sleep and missing their children’s birthdays but I wonder if this instance is really a matter for legislators. I’d even suggest these heavy-handed decrees inhibit workers from firing off an email to save their colleague in Hong Kong or Los Angeles an evening’s worry or a costly error.
Maybe it’s the sleep-inhibiting deadlines or the early sunsets that seem to save themselves for this time of year in London but as I left the office recently, I thought a lot about the world of work. Recently, as the leaves tumbled street-ward and the russet palette of autumn coated the canopies outside the window of our offices in Marylebone, the Monocle team said goodbye to the final proofs of our December/January instalment of the magazine.
The previous seven days had seen editors, designers, researchers and sub-editors cancelling plans, pitching up early and retreating late to meet these often punishing deadlines. Like many jobs it can be a test of patience, skill and endurance but it’s rewarding, too. And what’s more, it wouldn’t get done on a six-hour workday or without the occasional midnight email.
It’s obvious a workable middle ground does need be to be found between the stressed-out live-to-work livelihoods of many in Tokyo, London and New York and the contrastingly lax approach to work championed by the Nordics but it’s common sense that’s clocked off early in the working-hours debate.
Josh Fehnert is Monocle’s Edits editor.