Fewer hours, more work, greater productivity

Your correspondent Yvonne Hilst writes that “Fewer working hours suggest (although not necessarily) less work, that is, less productivity” ( Letters, September 3).

This is wrong.

Productivity is work (or “output”) per working hour. Fewer working hours suggest, if anything, similar work and higher productivity. Intuition suggests that if we spend less time in the office, we will fritter away less of it tweeting, daydreaming, or writing letters to the FT — and thus get about the same work done over the course of our shorter working day.

Indeed, since we shall be able to go home earlier and get more sleep, we may possibly be fresher and more creative, and get even more done.

Fewer hours, more work, greater productivity. The statistics show that there is some truth to this hopeful picture. Germany, with the fewest hours per worker per year (1,356) in the OECD, produces $60.40 of GDP per worker-hour.

The UK worker’s 1,681 annual hours each produce a mere $48.30, making him or her slightly poorer than their German counterpart. Another way of looking at it is the often-quoted fact that a German or French worker could (in theory, and on average) go home for the week some time on Thursday afternoon and still produce as much as a Briton who kept working on through Friday.

Japan does even worse than the UK in this respect: its culture of long working hours, although a bad thing, is rooted in worthy values of conscientiousness and loyalty, and so will be very difficult to change. Nevertheless, Ms Hilst is wrong to assume that women or men working fewer hours there will be less productive. David Wilson Cambridge, UK

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