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Hard work never killed anyone…?


The quote above is from Ronald Reagan. But are long working hours really the key to success, or can they also do damage?

As the European Working Conditions Observatory says:  “the organization of working time is a key element for the conciliation of work and personal life”. According to Eurostat, Spain is (annually and weekly) one of the countries with the longest working hours. 16, 6 % of employees even work more than 48 hours a week. It is especially true for recent graduates, who with their first contract, are often expected to stay longer at work, even though it isn’t officially said.

But also those who enjoy a regular 8h-day at work often have problems due to the rigid and antiquated distribution of working hours. The great majority of Spanish companies have a fixed timetable which doesn’t allow flexibility. Furthermore, many still insist in long lunch breaks of 1 1/2 – 2 hours, which on the one hand usually doesn’t allow employees to go home, and on the other hand means that employees have to work until 7.30pm or 8pm in the evening. In fact, in Spain there is a disproportionally high share of people working during evenings and nights.

In the recent years, people have become more aware of this issue and a dialogue is developing to increase flexibility of working hours. The change however has to take part in the heads of the company directors. Many of these still seem to be of the opinion that many working hours also lead to great results. In fact, only recently, I had a chat with a friend who was in a selection process with an international company. Everything went well, until the HR Manager told her that working hours in the company were from 08:30 to 19:30 minimum, with a lunch break of 45 minutes. When asked about this 10-hour working day, he told her that only highly motivated and result-oriented people could work in this company and that the long working hours were necessary.

Unfortunately, it seems that many people still think that efficiency and results depend from the willingness to work long hours. In fact, there are many studies which confirm that attitude and worker satisfaction, at work and in their private life, are the key for good work. Speaking for myself, I know that long working hours usually slow me down. I am a lot faster and more efficient with a tighter timeframe.

Long working hours increase the likelihood to suffer from chronic diseases and depression and to fall ill more frequently. Not to mention the complete lack of social and family life, which will surely not result in a better attitude at work.
Time nowadays has become an invaluable asset. Time is, to quote an article from the IESE Business School, a “scarce, inelastic and irreplaceable resource,” that should be adapted to the needs of society whenever possible.

I am not asking companies to shorten their 8-hour days; this is rather an appeal to allow workers more flexibility in their schedule. In exchange, workers’ satisfaction and stability will increase, with positive effects on productivity.  Instead of just using labour force, companies should focus on using it efficiently.

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