There are three unjustified work traditions that have no basis at all and these are the five working days, the monthly pay day, and the 8 AM to 5 PM working hours. I say they are unjustified because there is no scientific or economic rationale for their existence.
Five or more working days per week is irrational
Before this article by BBC published in February 2013 when Gambian President Yahya Jammeh made official a four-day work week in Gambia and this other one by the same BBC published in September 2014 when the Americans celebrated their labour week were brought to my attention, it hadn’t occurred to me that working for five days or more a week could be irrational. Somehow I “knew” that humanity is required to work for six days and rest the seventh day because the Christian/Hebrew bible says so, period.
Away from the bible and other religious “say so” dogmas, there are economists who have logical reasons to believe that working less days/hours a week before a rest is more productive than the traditional five/six days 40/48 hours work-week, and this has been argued succinctly by opinion writers, economics and journalists in articles such as:
- It’s It’s High Time For The 4–Day Workweek – Forbes
- Opinion: Why four–day workweeks are best – CNN.com and
- The four–day week: less is more | Money | The Guardian and many more.
You might not have the time to read all of those articles so I will summarily outline the rationale for having a four-day work-week as presented in those articles.
It is a matter of general knowledge that employees waste time at work. Salaries.com, a career website owned by IBM, conducts an annual survey on the amount of time wasted by employees in the US. In 2014 they asked some 750 people the questions of how much time they waste at work in which 89 percent admitted to wasting time. According to their finding, 62 per cent of employees waste 30 minutes and one hour daily on personal activities while the rest of time wasters waste up to 5 hours each day doing non-work related activities like checking personal emails, chatting on Facebook, or taking fake seek leaves.
One cause for the time wasted at work is the number of hours or days people are required to be at work in a week, a tradition set by Henry Ford without conducting scientific research on optimum number of work days/hours in a week vis a vis productivity. This can be seen from a calculation by Quentin Fortrell which, as BBC reported, pointed out that “Germany works almost 45% fewer annual hours than Greece, but is 70% more productive, while annual German salaries are higher”
Peggy Drexler of CNN started her four-day work-week opinion article by narrating the experience of Gina, an owner of a busy graphic design firm, who gave employees a one extra day off because “she felt guilty staying home while the others toiled. But she quickly realized the shorter week was less a burden than a surprise boon. From Monday through Thursday, her staff got in early to get their work done, and employees seemed genuinely excited to be there. Productivity increased dramatically. People still had fun, but even the office chitchat seemed more efficient. And when they were at work, they worked.”
CEO Jason Fried had explained Dina’s surprising finding from his own experience:
When there’s less time to work, you waste less time. When you have a compressed workweek, you tend to focus on what’s important. Constraining time encourages quality time.
In addition to worker productivity, economists have argued that a four-day work week will create direct and indirect employment as one to two additional workers may be required per unit of production, the workers will have a three days off to be able to engage in other economic activities that would generate further income, and the increase productivity will help create other jobs in other sectors as in the case of Germany vs Greece mentioned above.
The other sectors that would improve is personal saving on commuter fees; and the decreased commuting from home to work will also help improve the environment as less carbon dioxide will be emitted to the atmosphere (Global Warming crusaders will be happy with that).
Finally a four-day work week is said to have a great impact on social relations in families and friends. Mothers would have more time to nurture their kids, fathers would have sufficient time to take their families to more quality outings and vacations, grandfathers and grandmothers get extra time to be taken care of by their children, and people will have more time to spend time with friends away from work environment. Sadly, there hasn’t been sufficient verifiable empirical data collected to substantiate these benefits, and we need that data to not only justify a call to governments and private institutions to stop asking us to work for five days a week, but to also go a step further and harshly condemn those employers who want us to work for six days or more.
The best empirical data that would lay to rest the speculations on potential benefits a four-day work week stand to offer to individuals and the general economy is the experience of Gambia, but I haven’t been lucky to lay my hands on that data, if any is available, so far. Utah State in US tried the four-day work week for three years but had to revert to the old five-day work week not because they didn’t see any productivity improvement on employees, but because the public complained of lack of services every Friday (some productivity improvements were found but no comprehensive data was available to authenticate them).
The 8 AM and 5 PM unjustified work tradition
Unlike the five or more work days per week, there seems to be no research or arguments for or against the 8 AM or 9 AM to 5 PM or 6 PM working hours.
The closest discussions I have seen around this subject is the statements that people should work less hours per week, not by reducing the number of hours worked in a day, but by reducing the number of days we report to work per week.
But the strongest argument in support for reducing the number of work days in a week from five to four is improved productivity argument; hence we’ll take a look at productivity in terms of most productive hours for different individuals in a day, and also argue that distributing reporting and logging off times across a 18 hour period will not only boost productivity but also help ease menaces such as traffic jams.
For productivity purposes, it is agreed by psychologists, social scientists and economists that different people work best at different times of the day. There are those like me who would burn the midnight oil and sleep until late after midday whereas there are the early birds like my close high school and college friend who prefer to do all their hard chores early in the morning.
For lack of data, I have asked two of my friends near me that if given a choice to work any 8 hours in day, what would be their preferred reporting and log off times without lunch break? The two prefer to report to work at 9 AM, work without any break, and get back home at 5 PM.
What about you? Take this Poll:
I personally prefer 2 PM to 10 PM.
Even before I lay my hands on a thoroughly conducted research correlating productivity and optimized working hours for individual workers, arguments such the one written by Mikael Cho in the article The surprising reason we have a 40-hour work week (and why we should re-think it) that provides a brief scientific sense on why we work best at different hours strongly speak for the need to give credence to distributing reporting times within and between organizations. Allow me to pull a very long quote from the article:
The length of your 24-hour cycle may be longer or shorter due to genetics. If your cycle is a bit longer, you would be considered a night owl but if yours is a bit shorter, you’re most likely an early riser, says Katherine Sharkey, MD, PhD, associate director of the Sleep for Science Research Lab. Researchers have even pinpointed that the length of a particular gene called Period 3 or ‘clock gene,’ could be largely responsible for your sleep-wake cycle.
Night owls outlast early birdsA typical workday for most of us usually starts at 7AM and ends around 5PM. This lifestyle design really only works well for one type of person. The early riser. If you prefer working nights (like 44% of women and 37% of men do), then you’re often stuck slugging away at a time when your energy levels are low and your work ultimately suffers. Because night owls wake up later, they sometimes get a reputation for being lazy because they’re asleep while the rest of the world is hustling.But, recent research from the University of Brussels suggests that night owls may beat out early birds in the length of time they can stay awake and alert without becoming mentally fatigued.
Researchers conducted a study with ‘extreme’ early or late risers. Early risers awoke between 5AM-6AM while late risers awoke at noon. The participants spent two nights in a sleep lab where the researchers measured their brain activity, looking at alertness and ability to concentrate.
After ten hours of being awake, the early risers showed reduced activity in areas of the brain associated with attention span and completed tasks more slowly than late risers.‘It’s the late risers who have the advantage, and can outperform the early birds,’ said Philippe Peigneux, one of the publishers of the study.Forcing someone to work early (or late) doesn’t necessarily lead to better results.A night owl can be just as productive (if not more) than an early riser, they’re simply more productive at a different time.
What basically that article argues is that letting workers report at their best productive times according to their biological clocks will help boost the firm’s productivity. The 24 hour economy that has been proposed by a number of politicians should help frontier this argument.
The other and probably most important reason that should make us route for implementation of different working hours is the need to eradicate traffic jams in Nairobi. In the article Limit Matatus to 4000 to control traffic jam in Nairobi, I quoted Fred Gori’s suggestion that:
Paraphrased – “A 24 hour economy where we distribute the morning traffic peak hours of 6 to 9 am and evening traffic peak hours of 5 to 7 pm to throughout the day by having people report to and leave work at different times of the day by having a system where some workers arrive at work at 7 am and leave at 4 pm; another group reports at 9 am and depart at 6 pm and yet another reporting at 11 am and depart at 8 pm etc would help ease traffic congestion in Nairobi.”
An individual firm might find it hard to implement the reporting and leaving times but we surely do not need all organizations to implement a standard reporting and logging off time. In the government circle, those working for different departments in different ministries can have different reporting and leaving times.
End month salary date is also an unjustified work tradition
It is inconveniencing enough that you can’t have a three day weekend (if you don’t agree then I guess you aren’t pleased that 20th October 2014 falls on a Monday). Worse still, you don’t have flexibility to carry out your work responsibility at the a time in the day best suited for your biological clock.
To add salt to injury, your brokeness every ten days before end month is never easy to solve. It is not just you who gets broke a few days before end month every month. Self employed business men and women get broke too, even the big business outlets like Nakumatt experience the same down time in cash flow. This is because employers in Kenya decided that we should be paid no earlier than 28th day of each month and no later than 5th of the following month. This payment period implies that our pockets are always full in the last and first week of every month, but empty in the rest.
However, if each and every single day in the month was a pay day for someone, then the pockets for most of us would not be as empty. Each day then, we would be in a position to get a treat, a tip, or a loan from a friend who just got paid. The bank and supermarket queues would be distributed across the month, away from the snake winding queues experienced only on the end month payment period; and life would be the same every day all the days of our lives.
Distributing pay days would mean business men and women won’t have those cash dry periods and most importantly the number of people who take goods and services on credit would significantly reduce. This then would mean that you are in a position to grow predictably faster, reduce chances of running into insolvency due to bad debts, and maintain a constant cash flow for funding other projects and budgets. Our economy, I believe, would be able to grow at a sustainable rate only if we stop this unjustified work tradition of paying every one the last or first week of each month.