Kelvinwright's Blog

postmodern thoughts

Consistently working more than 40 hours a week is unproductive

In 1996, as part of my degree thesis studying the organisational and personal impact of workplace stress, I came across terms like, burnout, anxiety, depression, and karoshi (a Japanese word that literally means “death from overwork”). I also learnt a phrase that at the time, just 24 years old, and my only industrial experience a one year internship, meant little to me: “work-life balance”. Seven years later I found myself working in Amsterdam. Returning to my office at 17.30, after 8 hours delivering training, I found the lights out, and everything locked up! A Director found me and asked me what I was doing; I told him that I was trying to enter the office to complete a report on the day’s activities. He asked me, “Will anybody die if you don’t complete that report today?” I shook my head. He replied, “Here we don’t work late. Collect your things and return to your hotel. Enjoy the city!”

As part of my thesis, I studied workplace culture in North America, the UK and Asian countries. I read how Japan’s rise from the devastating and catastrophic effects of World War II, to economic prominence and one of the world’s leading economies in the decades after the war had been regarded as something of a miracle, due in part to the hard work of its employees. The economic boom and prominence was also the trigger for a new epidemic that led to karoshi. My studies found that employees could not work for twelve or more hours a day, six or seven days a week, year on year, without suffering serious psychological and physical effects. I would later work in a South Korean company and see firsthand the effects of such a working schedule. I remember on more than one occasion a Korean Director sleeping through a meeting and then two weeks later asking me why I hadn’t presented a report to him!!

As this article shows, consistently working more than 40 hours a week is simply not productive.


March 31, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

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