Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Working Too Hard

McGill Management prof Karl Moore, in a discussion on the Globe website today:

“Statistics show that Americans, and Canadians aren't far behind, work more, considerably more than any other country, in the area of 2000 hours a year. Ahead even of the Japanese, who have the reputation as very hard working.”

Anyone else find that worrying? I write this from the geopolitical heart of the European Union, where the population by and large still worships at the altar of the 35 hour work week. When polled, their primary concerns about employment tend to be things like good benefits and job security, over financial ambition and career advancement. People have time to spend with their kids. They measure their annual vacations in weeks not days. They make a priority of early retirement.

It’s a trade-off. Western European economies grow sluggishly compared to North America, and are left in the dust by emerging states in the developing world. It’s a trade-off at the local level, too. Service here of almost any kind had become a joke among my friends—its consistently awful. No one works too hard at it.

But you gotta wonder if Moore isn’t onto something. Having lived in Europe for a few years not too long ago, he reflects that, “he Europeans, at least in my experience, and statistics bare this out, are more balanced about taking time off and getting life and work in more perspective.”

So a suggestion (and not a new one): how about an increase in the minimum annual paid vacation in Canada? I reckon that people with more time off work will be more productive (and happier) when they’re on—a trade-off on the national work ethic. It won’t bring about peace in the Middle East and it won’t cure AIDS and it won’t feed the hungry. But it would improve quality of life for a few million people who are probably still getting by on 10 days a year.

I reckon that’s pretty good, no?

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