Fitter, happier, more productive? Should other countries follow Sweden's lead and cut the length of the working day? Self-professed 'lazy man' Ioan Marc Jones believes it's time for a change to the amount of time we spend at work
I reckon it’s precisely the average employee’s laziness - the reluctance to engage in physical or mental activity - that lends credibility to the argument for the six-hour working day. This isn’t a lazy argument, but a lazy man’s argument. And I am that lazy man.
So to make the argument for the six-hour workday, I’ll use myself as a prototype. After all, I’m a rather typical employee: hard working at the start of the day, incredibly lazy towards the end. I’ll therefore play the part of
- the economic actor.
Three years ago, I was a lonely post boy. At the beginning of my shift, I hauled vast sacks of mail up four flights of stairs. For the next few hours, I sifted through thousands of letters and sorted them into piles. After lunch, I printed labels for couriers and used a franking machine to categorise the letters into first and second class. By the seventh hour, I was losing the will to live, so I double-checked random items that probably didn’t need double-checking and triple-checked items that definitely didn’t need triple-checking.
My final (eighth) hour was what I referred to as ‘me-time’. I was too tired to maintain high or even medium levels of productivity, so I just dossed around. I tend to keep this information from future employers.
Economists could measure my levels of productivity using what they call marginal analysis. At the start of the day - when I was a productive, but still lonely post boy - the marginal benefit of my employment was high. As the day rolled on, I grew tired and lazy: I sent out fewer parcels, triple-checked unnecessary items, embraced ‘me-time’, which saw my marginal benefit decrease, as my utility fell. The marginal cost at the beginning of the day was low, but increased as the day went on, as I’m apparently not just a lazy worker but an exponentially lazy worker. Again, this is not how I describe myself to potential employers.
According to many economists, most workers follow a similar pattern: they become less productive as the day goes on. There are several reasons to explain this phenomenon.
Firstly, tasks greet as the day begins. Whether you sell apples or run Apple, work accumulates overnight. I assume an apple seller has to pick through boxes of apples, removing the odd bruised Golden Delicious, and I assume the CEO of Apple has to do something of imminent importance I couldn’t possibly comprehend, such as counting piles of cash. For most employees, the workload is highest in the morning. As employees complete tasks, therefore, their workload tends to decrease.
Secondly, as previously mentioned, employees become more tired as the day progresses. A grape picker, to use an extreme example, will pick perhaps 100 grapes in their first hour, but only 50 grapes in the final hour. Therefore, even if the workload is endless - something I’ve thankfully rarely experienced - employees still reduce their utility through fatigue or, in my case, sheer, exponential and exceptional laziness.
Thirdly, employees really do tend to embrace ‘me-time’. A friend of mine calls it ‘end-of-day-syndrome’; that inviolable part of the day when workers feel they’ve worked long and hard enough and so deserve a break. A quick look at social media usage supports this phenomenon. A study published on Quick Sprout found that Facebook posts receive the most clicks at 3pm, retweets occur most often around 5pm and Instagram posts are most successful after 3pm. The apotheosis of low productivity occurs when employees start retweeting photos of cats and uploading bored selfies. Social media is the final retreat of ‘end-of-day-syndrome’ sufferers.
“By the seventh hour, I was losing the will to live, so I double-checked random items that probably didn’t need double-checking and triple-checked items that definitely didn’t need triple-checking.
Using marginal analysis, we can therefore conclude that the final few hours of the workday are the least
, not just for the employee, but also for the employer, as employees’ utility significantly decreases, yet the pay remains the same. Thus one could argue it’s efficient for employees to work fewer hours.
This was the rationale behind Sweden’s recent decision to allow companies to implement the six-hour workday. The results, as expected, saw efficiency improve alongside a decrease in staff turnover. Employees reported better morale and thus employers retained talent without spending over the odds on recruitment. Employees improved their utility and therefore employers reported an increased efficiency. So the case for working fewer hours is clear.
One may assume I’m proselytising about the six-hour workday because I’m an exponentially lazy worker. This assumption is correct. I am indeed using marginal analysis to excuse my laziness. It’s precisely the laziness of the average worker, however, that justifies this contention. Low productivity results in time and money wasted. Working hard is indeed a virtue, but working harder for fewer hours, for this lazy man at least, seems equally virtuous.