In Europe, companies have traditionally turned to requiring that their employees take shorter workweeks, longer vacations and more time off when faced with an economic downturn… which is of course, very divergent from the United States model of cost-cutting. Even when not faced with a recession, France has a standard 35 hour workweek and Britain offers 6 weeks of paid vacation per year. However, if you are reading this from the U.S., I’m going to guess that you personally know someone who worked well over 40 hours per week but has now been laid off–and I’m sure you have seen the damage that it causes. But is one work environment intrinsically better than the other?
So what do the have to say? Well, basically the Europeans argue that
shortening work weeks and extending time off has the effect of keeping
the economy afloat for this reason: workers are still making some
money, which they can in turn spend on ‘stuff’ to keep consumption more
stable. Additionally, they argue that a worker who is allowed (maybe
forced) to take more leisure time is going to have more time for their
family and thus higher morale, which in turn should technically
increase productivity. I mean, a happy employee is a good employee,
Some of the contributors don’t think so. Truman Bewley, a professor of
economics at Yale University, thinks that shortening the work week
would actually reduce morale among workers due to inability to
cover fixed expenses of daily life over a prolonged period of time.
Many European countries have a strong social safety net (health care,
cheap education, rent assistance, etc.) that can compensate for reduced
pay–but not here in the U.S. Additionally, employers that reduce
employee hours still have to pay for employee benefits, and the
cost-benefit analysis of this model starts to look a little lopsided.
So that is the American way, I suppose: to let the unlucky few take the
lay-off while the rest of the employees–and the company–prosper.
Bewley seems to agree when he says that, “Businesspeople tend to
believe that the best way to handle a business downturn is to maintain
a core group of key employees, encourage its morale by giving raises
and laying-off so many employees that those who remain have a little
too much to do.”
But this is my question for you: Would you rather keep your job, get
paid a little less and have some more free time? Or would you prefer to
be laid off with the chance of finding a job that pays the same, if not
more… but possibly less.
Personally, I would enjoy the shorter workweek and the smaller
paycheck. I can learn to live frugally… and at least I would still have
a job. Right?
Cameron for My Wonderful World