Colette Sexton, news correspondent at The Sunday Business Post, on why spending less time working can actually be more productive.
Karoshi is a Japanese phrase that is used to describe people dying from working too much. The literal translation is “death by overwork.” It is a common phenomenon in Japan, and one well-known case was that of 31-year-old journalist Miwa Sado who was reported as logging 159 hours of overtime in a single month at the news network NHK. She died of heart failure in July 2013 and her death was confirmed as karoshi in 2017.
A survey of 10,000 companies published in Japan’s white paper on karoshi, released in October 2016, found that overtime at more than 20 per cent exceeded the 80 hours per month threshold for overwork.
Committing too much of your life to working can damage not only your personal life and relationships, but it can actually kill you. No-one on their deathbed regrets not spending more time at work.
The average person will spend one-third of their lifetime (or 90,000 hours) at work, according to Psychology Today. One-third of our lives working. That leaves very little time to eat ice cream, watch the sunset, go on dates, walk on the beach, read books, dance, and all the other fun things in the world.
But that might be about to change. A company in New Zealand recently conducted an experiment where their employees worked for four days a week while still being paid for five days’ work. They have said that the experiment has been so successful that they plan on introducing it permanently.
Perpetual Guardian, which manages trusts, wills and estates, reduced its workweek from 40 hours to 32 hours in March and April this year. It had researchers study the effects on its 240 staff. One of the researchers, Jarrod Haar, a human resources professor at Auckland University of Technology, said actual job performance did not change when doing it over four days instead of five, but employees reported a 24 per cent improvement in work-life balance. Staff were energised returning to work after their days off, and managers said employees were more creative, their attendance improved, and they arrived to work on time and did not leave early or take long breaks. Meetings that previously ran for two hours were reduced to 30 minutes, and staff created signals to let colleagues know that they needed time to work without distraction.
This is not a once-off. A six-hour working day trial in the city of Gothenburg in Sweden found that employees were as productive or, in some cases, more productive than they were when they worked longer days.
Work culture needs to change. The last person to leave the office is not the most valuable employee. We should all be working smarter and more efficiently instead of wasting our time and companies’ time counting down the hours until we can go home. It’ll mean more productivity for workplaces and more time for walks on the beach for us. Win-win.