Fewer working hours not a guarantee of happiness at work

New South Korean study reveals that reduction in working hours did not significantly improve overall job and life satisfaction

How I wish I could work less! That’s a common grouse among many a working men and women. It has been suggested is a 6-day week be reduced to a 5-day week and the weekly hours working requirement also be decreased. South Korea has implemented both these suggestions but the results have not been as positive as expected.

That’s the finding of the study by Robert Rudolf from Korea University, Seoul.

The paper, published online in Springer’s Journal of Happiness Studies, focusses on the overall happiness of couples [married or just living together] living with children — at a family level and at a individual level.

South Korea introduced this work policy in 2004: Saturdays are official non-working days. Official working hours for the week were also reduced from 44 to 40 hours. It was expected that the productivity would improve and injuries at work would reduce since employees would be able to rest well. Also with an extra holiday, they would opt for leisure activities and the weak leisure industry would get a boost.

Rudolf’s study is the first study to measure the impact of such reduction of working hours on the subjective wellbeing of individuals and families.

It would be untrue to say that the policy had no positive impact. Women found the policy greatly helpful. Traditional South Korean society places more responsibility of household chores on women. Spending less time at work meant that they had more time to manage the household chores. However it did not mean that they were any happier with their family life or their life at the workplace improved.

Even though the working hours were reduced, the responsibilities at work remained the same – that in fact meant more stress than before. Also some companies reduced the holidays that were granted on account of the reduced working hours. That could be the reason why expected positive outcomes were not observed.

May be what we have traditionally [and theoretically] believed may not hold true in the real-life complex workplace environment. Or it could also mean that “we gain some but also lose some” when the working hours are reduced. Whatever the positives, they seem to be offset by the negative impact.

“If the latter holds true, it would be naïve to believe that work time reductions alone can increase worker wellbeing,” warned Rudolf.


P.S. Fulfilment-at-work and life-satisfaction are difficult to attain through external means. As this animation based on Daniel Pink’s book Drive shows, more loftier and internal mechanisms are at play.


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