The Atlantic recently published a nice article titled “Are We Truly Overworked”. Using 6 simple charts, it investigates this issue from an US perspective and draws some conclusions:
- Several developed nations like US, UK, Denmark, France, Germany etc.have seen a drop in annual working hours per worker in the last 60 years.
- Dividing work into two categories – paid work and household / child care- the data suggests that there is a shift in the time spent by men and women workers on these types of work. Since entering the workforce, women have spent more hours in the office and less at home, while males saw an opposite shift. Just having to strike a balance between these types of work can lead a sense of “always busy.”
- Not all men are equal though! Data suggests that top earners are actually spending much more time at work over the last 25 years. Whereas the number of weekly work hours have declined for lower-income earners.
- An important consideration is that this is just not about the changing nature of work, but also about the changing nature of marriages. An implication is that the more hours one spends at work, the more likely they are going to marry someone who works a lot too.
- Technology has also re-framed the equation, with North Americans, Europeans and Asians report 88.5, 82 and 80.5 hours per week when they were “on” – either working, or monitoring work or being accessible.
- As income inequality has grown, there is also a rising phenomenon of “leisure inequality”, where the more educated workers report lower leisure hours per week as compared to workers without a college degree.
So, what kind of a situation do we have in Singapore? It’s difficult to answer because the data I could find doesn’t have this kind of granularity and goes back to the last decade or so only. The available data suggests a stable trend with workers putting in about 46 hours per week over the last decade.
However, according to Towers Watson’s Global Workforce Study 2012, 48% of the workforce in Singapore felt that they have been putting in more hours than normal in the last 3 years. There are some important implications for companies in Singapore as we look deeper:
- Data: Males are more likely to feel that their working hours have gone up, as compared to females (50% vs. 45%). The different types of work (paid work and household / childcare work) and it’s changing distribution might be at play here, leading to a sense of being over-worked. Implication: Companies need to dispel the myth that work-life balance should be targeted first for women workers. They need to understand the changing nature of the social contract and support their overall workforces though inclusive practices.
- Data: In line with the US findings from The Atlantic article, employees at the Director / Senior Manager / Manager level in Singapore are more likely to feel that the hours have gone up (about 50-65%). Top performing employees also report working longer hours. Implication: Don’t stress out your best completely! As companies exploit their top talent pools, they need to mitigate burn-out risks too. Having a sustainable approach to engage these employees is critical – an approach which combines employee engagement with enablement and energy (well-being).
- Data: Very interestingly, employees who have flexible working schedules and flexible work location are more likely to feel that they are working more hours. Again, this could be the phenomenon of being “always connected”. Implication: Technology does help us become more productive, but overdoing things may not be healthy. Companies should leverage technology to create flexible options for workers, but not overly drive an expectation that these workers must be “always on”.
What do you think about the changing nature of the deal between employers and employees? How are you addressing these challenges?