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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 3/22/12

Two for the Price of One: The 60 hour work week

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Message william czander

When I was an undergraduate at CCNY in the late 1960s I had an opportunity to work with the late Professor John Neulinger who had a grant to study leisure and was writing a book on leisure.   He believed that human civilization was on the road to becoming a leisure based society where modern technology and science would free the average person from work and concern about providing for subsistence needs. Boy- Did he miss the mark. Instead of expanding, leisure time is rapidly becoming extinct as America workers work longer hours with less time off.

Consider this curious fact from Schor (1991), since 1948 the level of productivity of the U.S. worker has more than doubled.   This means that the average worker could do their job in half the time as the 1948 employee and produce the same goods and services. This would suggest that Professor Neulinger was right; a 4-hour work day and lots of leisure time. But it did not happen. Instead management demanded that their employees do the work of two 1948 employees and executives and their stockholders got rich. What happened to the employees that were bounced out of their jobs? They had plenty of time on their hands but it wasn't leisure time.

By reducing the workforce, leisure has become nonexistent for most American workers who now work 200 hours a month and this excludes travel time to and from work which can tack on an additional 60 to 80 hours a month. Some workers work 300 hours a month and there are some who spend 100 hours/month in their car.

Contrast employment in America with France. In France, hours worked per week are fixed at 35 by law. If one works overtime pay is typically fixed by collective agreement, but also law requires that employees who work overtime must be paid with at least an extra 10 percent an hour. In the case of no other collective agreement, overtime is paid at an extra 25 percent an hour for the first eight hours and then at an extra 50 percent an hour. The 35-hour week has led many companies to be a lot more flexible about working hours. Some have implemented an 8 hour per day schedule with Friday afternoon off, whereas others make 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. required time at work and leave individuals to organize the rest of their time. Managerial jobs have always tended to be more flexible, with people often starting later in the day (10 AM or later), longer lunches and then finishing 8:00 p.m. All employees are entitled to two and a half days of paid leave per month worked. This amounts to a month of vacation every year. Italians get more, 45 days. But not Americans. They rank woefully last of all industrialized nations with an average of seven days, as few employees take their entitled vacation time of 10 days. If American workers are given a day off, they are so intimidated that they would most likely show up for work. Saulny and Brown, (2009) report that "Employees who were "furloughed' during the 2008 financial crisis came to work even when they were forced to take days off with no pay"because they fear for the long-term safety of their position and hope self-sacrifice impresses the management."  

Unlike Americans, French employees fight for their work week and time off. French President Sarkozy and other politicians know that corporate CEOs in Europe work between 48 and 68 hours a week, and it infuriates them that their employees work a 35-hour week. When Sarkozy wanted to increase the work week and made it clear he favored the American approach, in response over a million of France's workers took to the streets in protest. But not in America; the workforce is so intimidated that they suffer quietly, put in their 60 to 70 hours a week and often are willing to give up their vacation or even work for free. It is not devotion to work that keeps Americans glued to the workplace, it is downright fear. CEOs love the American way. They almost get two employees for the price of one.

How did this happen?

In the late 1970s seven important strategies were promoted by business school educators and business writers. B-school students who went on to lead our corporations learned the following:

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He has taught in MBA programs for almost 35 years in 2002 he left academe to work for Home Depot where he witnessed the absurdity of corporate life. He is now semiretired and serves on the faculty as an adjunct professor at several institutions. He (more...)
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