The promise of technology was that leisure time would increase. That hasn’t happened, at least not in the manner expected.
The number of hours at work has decreased over the decades but not at the rate expected. Europe has seen a significant drop but the U.S. and Canada are relatively steady at about 34 hours per week.
Why is the promise of technology realized in Europe and not North America? In a word: unions. When the Great Recession of 2008 hit France, instead of laying people off, workers shared jobs as negotiated by their unions. In Canada and the U.S., the choice was stark: either you had a job or didn’t. Once the recession eased, French workers continued to share jobs.
The French work fewer hours with greater productivity. France has 29 per cent greater productivity than Canada and the French work 16 per cent fewer hours. The French are more productive when they are on the job.
Canadian and American workers have increased leisure time in an unexpected way –they relax on the job. In a survey, Salary.com found that that 89 per cent of workers admitted to wasting time at work. An increase in productivity due to technology is offset by goofing off on the job.
Of those who admitting to time theft, one-third wasted 30 minutes, one-third admitted to one hour, and one-third to up to 5 hours a day. The top time-wasters were talking and texting on the phone, gossiping, internet and social media, breaks, distraction of noisy co-workers, meetings, and email.
Examples of what employees were caught doing are: caring for a pet bird smuggled into work, laying under boxes to scare people, wrestling, sleeping while claiming to be praying, and shaving legs in the women’s washroom.
When these hours are subtracted from the time spent at work, the actual time spent working is only 29 hours per week. Because the work is being done in fewer productive hours, productivity is actually up by 2.3 per cent.
But you can’t say that workers who goof off at work are actually relaxing. If I’m hiding under a box waiting to scare passersby, I’m aware that I could be caught and disciplined, even fired.
Importing European solutions, like shortening the work day, is not easy. North American individualism creates a different work ethic and Corporate America has exploited that ethos. There is a sense that hard work and long hours are the key to success. And where the Puritan Work Ethic fails, corporations instil the fear of job-loss when workers try to organize.
As evidenced in Europe, productivity can improve when hours of work are reduced. Employees are more focused on the job at hand when the hours to do the job are reduced
North Americans resist job-sharing even though they would have more quality leisure-time if they did, not just hours stolen at work. The dilemma that many workers now face is having time or money, but not both. In my first column ever for the Kamloops Daily News in 2000, I wrote: “Now, productive leisure time is a luxury of the idle rich, or, a necessity of the destitute poor, but beyond the grasp of most.”