"Business leaders are visionaries"
Influential, well-funded groups such as the CBI and
Institute of Directors have for years issued press
releases countering perceptions of increasingly long working
hours. Such groups point to "pioneering" and "visionary"
measures by companies in ushering in a "flexible"
working environment in the UK (the media laps this
up with little scepticism).
Working hours have risen in the last 20 years, on average,
for UK full-time workers (as shown by the UK Labour Force
Survey). This reverses a 150-year trend of declining working
hours. And each year employees are giving £23 billion
in free labour (unpaid overtime, etc) to their bosses, according
to the TUC.
Furthermore, The Health and Safety Executive reports
that the number of people suffering from work-related stress
has more than doubled since 1990. And BBC News quotes the
International Stress Management Association as saying:
we conduct research into stress and each year the figure just
keeps on getting worse."
Journalists reading this might want to bear in mind some
history when encountering the latest spin about our glorious
business leaders from the CBI:
UK governments have known for decades
that long hours are economically counterproductive. A 1916
Home Office report, Industrial Fatigue, noted that
output "is lowered by the working of overtime. The
diminution is often so great that the total daily output is
less when overtime is worked than when it is suspended. Thus
overtime defeats its own object."
In 1933, the US Senate was
close to passing a bill for a 30-hour week. The legislation
seemed assured... until President Roosevelt, joined by the
nation's captains of industry, squashed it. But in the atmosphere
of expectancy of a shorter working week, W.K. Kellogg, in
1935, introduced a scheme to cut 2 hours from the working
day, yet pay the same wages. Apparently this succeeded
a report from Kellogg claimed:
"This isn't just a theory with us.
We have proved it with five years of experience. We have found
that with the shorter working day, the efficiency and morale
of our employees is so increased, the accident and insurance
rates are so improved, that we can afford to pay as much for
six hours as we formerly paid for eight".
UK Labour Force Survey, Historical Supplement and Quarterly
Supplement, Autumn 1999; TUC online, tuc.org.uk; Hazards magazine
no. 81; BBC News Online, 7 Nov 2001; Hazards magazine factsheet
78, 2002; John de Graaf, Affluenza.