Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Worker Productivity:

A Look at the Numbers

While this is not strictly a nuclear issue, the issue of worker productivity affects all enterprises, so I will take some liberty with the theme of this blog and report on a recent Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) study of worker productivity in a number of countries, as reported by Time magazine.

With the recent attention focused on the French law restricting e-mails to employees after work hours, there has been increased focus on issues of overwork and burnout.  The OECD report looks at the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per hour worked, and concludes that working more hours does not result in more productivity (as measured by the GDP).  The measure of hours worked is the average for all employed citizens, including full- and part-time work.

In particular, the U.S. came in 5th out of 35 countries in productivity, behind Luxembourg, Ireland, Norway, and Belgium.  France, which is famous for its short work week, came in 7th, while Japan, which is famous for its extremely long hours, came in 20th.  What was particularly striking to me was that, with the exception of the U.S. and Ireland, most of the countries in the top 10 group in productivity had an average work week of about 30 hours or less.  Germany, had the lowest average work week (26.3 hours), while the U.S. and Ireland weighed in well above, at 33.6 and 33.5 hours, respectively.  (Remember that all the numbers include part-time workers; hence we don't see the famous 40-hour work week.)  By contrast, the 25 countries following the "top 10" had average work weeks ranging from 30.9 hours (Austria) to 41.2 hours (Mexico).  

Of course, this is one statistic, and I am sure that other statistics might present a different picture.  In particular, I personally wonder how the productivity numbers stack up when one compares particular sectors of the economy.  And one can wonder how much of the difference in hours worked is due to cultural behavior.  I know from my time in Japan that workers felt a kind of social obligation to stay at their desks long into the evening, whether or not they really had something urgent to do.

Still, it is an important indication, particularly in this era of 24/7 connectivity, that we need to rethink some of the assumptions many employees and employers have had about the importance of working longer hours than the nominal work week.

With that off my mind, I promise to get back to discussing nuclear- and other energy-related issues.


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