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6-hour workday not in the cards

There aren't enough hours in the day to get my work done

By Todd Humber

I live in the centre of the universe. Well, just north of it to be precise — but I work in Toronto, which makes me a leading authority on the rat race.

At least that’s what people tell me on the rare occasions when I get to escape the grips of the 6ix. (And hey — since the entire country now has Raptors basketball fever, we’re all allowed to speak Drake). If none of that makes sense, you’re either as old as me or have a serious lack of millennials running around your house.

But this is what I hear from non-Ontarians and non-Albertans in particular: You work too hard.

A couple of years ago at the Human Resources Management Association (HRMA) conference in Vancouver, I decided to head over to the tradeshow early to ensure the Thomson Reuters booth was spick and span and ready to greet B.C.’s finest HR professionals.

I wandered over at 7:15 a.m. and struggled to find an unlocked door. When I did, I was greeted by a security guard who asked what I was doing. I explained my mission. He looked disbelievingly at me — then down at his watch — and up again at me. He said, “Where are you from?”

When I told him, he shrugged and said, “I should have known. Go back to bed. Nobody will be here before 11.”

On the ride from the airport to my hotel in Saint John, N.B., the local cabbie spent a good 20 minutes pontificating on the woes of Toronto. He was an amusing chap who had visited Toronto twice — and didn’t much like what he had seen. To sum up his soliloquy in a dozen words or less, he said: “It’s just too much. And nobody there knows how to relax.”

An ardent Maple Leaf fan, he bemoaned the empty seats he saw on television during the first period — “Nobody can get out of work on time, even for a hockey game. It’s ridiculous.”

If you’ve been to New Orleans, you’ll understand the meaning of the word slow. Nothing much of anything in that city happens in a hurry — and the locals adore the pace. And don’t even get started on Europe, the land of two-hour lunches and month upon month of paid vacation.

It’s also the land of the six-hour workday in some quarters, a notion which makes the productivity hounds on Bay Street gasp. But maybe it shouldn’t — just ask some nurses in Sweden.

For the last year, nurses at a retirement home have clocked six-hour workdays. They didn’t take a pay cut, they just worked fewer hours. It was part of a government-funded study to see what impact a shorter workday would have on productivity.

The results? The nurses took half as much sick time and were 2.8 times less likely to take any time off. They were 20 per cent “happier” and had more energy both at work and in their spare time, according to a Bloomberg article.

But the long-term care home also had to hire 15 additional nurses, which cost about US$735,000. So the math may not be as simple as it looks — especially for jobs like nursing where having staff work fewer hours means you need to actually hire more bodies to ensure patients are cared for.

In many knowledge-based industries, that isn’t necessarily the case. A Salary.com survey from 2014 showed 57 per cent of 750 workers surveyed wasted at least one of work per day, the biggest distractions being social media, gossiping, the Internet and texting. More than one-quarter of workers waste at least two hours, and some pundits have argued eight hours is simply too long a stretch for an average person to be productive.

But for this theory to work in practice, workers would need to put down their smartphones and be fully engaged for the six-hour stretch. And that may be, well, a stretch.

Mexican telecom billionaire Carlos Slim proposed an alternate idea in 2014 — the notion of a three-day workweek. He told attendees at a conference in Paraguay that a shortened work week was inevitable, with staff working 11-hour days and not retiring until they’re in their 70s.

In an era where automation is eliminating a lot of manual labour, where ideas like a guaranteed minimum income are gaining traction because of worries there won’t be enough work left to go around, it’s tempting to look at alternatives to the standard work week.

But my inbox suggests another reality — there aren’t enough hours in the day to get my work done. The idea of having two less hours every day induces panic attacks.

So to my Saint John cabbie buddy, I can only say this — forgive me. I’m going to be late for the next Leafs game. That is, if I can ever get a ticket.


© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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