Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Are Americans working too much?

With many people currently enjoying or looking forward to their summer holidays it is sobering to consider some of the differences in expectation that workers in different countries will have about how much paid time off they can enjoy. Statutory minimum leave varies enormously by country, from zero days in the US, through to 5 working days in China, 10 working days in Canada, and all the way up to 25 working days plus public holidays in countries like Denmark and Norway. Of course, variations in legislated minimums give plenty of scope for more explicit CSR type policies in low-regulation countries such as the US, but even looking at the average leave taken across countries, Scandinavia and most of Europe far outpace North America. Sure, a lot of the talk now is about Americans not having enough jobs, but another way of looking at it is maybe some Americans are simply working too much.

We have been interested in debates about working hours, flexible work arrangements, forced overtime and the like for some time. In the first two editions of our Business Ethics textbook we included cases on young professionals and excessive working hours.  In the most recent 3rd edition, this changed to a case about forced labor, which is a related but quite different issue. These are complicated problems, especially when much of the excessive hours worked by professionals is, in principle, voluntary. Even in sweatshops, some argue that workers choose to work long hours for low pay, because it is better than the alternative - which is no job and no pay.

Anyway, arriving in the inbox today was a nice infographic from, the fruits of whose labors we've featured before in our survey of the best and worst corporate responsibility infographics. It tells an interesting, and well documented, story of the problems of excessive working hours in the US. We're not sure the call for a return of a 40 hour week will be heeded in the current climate, but it certainly helps start an important conversation. And with many in the CSR world apparently uninterested in working hours in the developed world as a relevant topic, it provides a decent business case for changing that perspective.

Bring Back the 40 Hour Work Week Infographic

Infographic source:
Photo by LaPrimaDonna. Reproduced under Creative Commons Licence

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