Book

Diminishing returns at work: The consequences of long working hours

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Abstract

This book concerns working hours - in the past and in the present, in America and in Britain. The focus is on the relationship between working hours and outcome, such as production and health. Proportional increases in working hours are shown to result in smaller proportional increases in production, and the benefits in output of long working hours may not offset the consequences of long hours for the health and quality of life of workers. A distinction is made between nominal hours (those that individuals are observed to be working) and effective hours (those that are effective in producing goods and that are compatible with good health). The meaning of the link between hours and average hourly earnings receives particular attention. Firms are encouraged to experiment with different hours.
... 19 Assuming a proportional link between working hours and output, this implies an output elasticity with respect to work-related risk in the range of 1% 4.8% = 0.21 to 1% 2.4% = 0.42, and therefore σ ∈ [0.58, 0.78]. If diminishing returns to hours are assumed (compare Pencavel, 2018), the values of σ become slightly higher. In the quantitative exercises below, we vary σ between 0.5 and 0.9 to illustrate the sensitivity of this parameter on our results. ...
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This paper studies the provision of occupational safety when the labor market is subject to search frictions. While safety measures are costly for firms, they reduce workers' mortality. We show that the presence of search frictions decreases the socially optimal level of occupational safety relative to a frictionless labor market, leading to excess mortality. In a decentralized setting where wages and safety measures are bargained at the firm level, matching externalities and a labor supply externality may further reduce safety provision. We obtain conditions under which these externalities are internalized by firms and workers, and discuss the role of policy for promoting occupational safety. Calibrating the model to the US, we find that search frictions explain 8%-14% of the work-related mortality rate, which indirectly makes them the third largest cause of work-related death.
... The survey reported lots of conflicting comments regarding daylight: 'there are also issues with the light from the window in my room at certain times of the [day]', 'less lighting in general than on campus spaces which makes it harder for me to work in the evenings'. The second comment is interesting because although it is good to prevent long work hours due to the impact on wellbeing [75,77], it suggests their 'flow' period is much later in the day. However, potentially more detail regarding work/study schedules would be required to align daylighting and 'flow' periods. ...
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Accessible design within the built environment has often focused on mobility conditions and has recently widened to include mental health. Additionally, as one in seven are neurodivergent (including conditions such as ADHD, autism, dyslexia, and dyspraxia), this highlights a growing need for designing for ‘non-visible’ conditions in addition to mobility. Emphasised by the growing disability pay gap and the disability perception gap, people with disabilities are still facing discrimination and physical barriers within the workplace. This research aimed to identify key ways of reducing physical barriers faced by people with a disability and thus encourage more comfortable and productive use of workspaces for all. Once the need for designing for a spectrum of users and inclusive workspace design was understood, a survey was then circulated to students and staff at a large university in the UK (working remotely from home), with the aim of understanding how people have adapted their home spaces and what barriers they continue to face. Quantitative and qualitative results were compared to the literature read with key issues emerging, such as separating work and rest from spaces in bedrooms. The survey findings and literature were evaluated, extracting key performance-based goals (e.g., productivity and focus within a study space) and prescriptive design features (e.g., lighting, furniture, and thermal comfort), whilst also considering the inclusivity of these features. The key conclusion establishes that, to achieve maximum benefit, it is important to work with the users to understand specific needs and identify creative and inclusive solutions.
... The employer determines the work schedule for employees. (Pencavel, 2018) Safe Workplace Environment Workplace safety refers to the working environment at a company and encompasses all factors that impact the safety, health and well-being of employees. This can include environmental hazards, unsafe working conditions or processes, drug and alcohol abuse, and workplace violence (Workplace Safety, 2020). ...
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This study aims to examine the relationship between the workplace environment and employees' satisfaction; to what extent can the workplace environment affect job satisfaction? The study used past research and interviewing an employee on job satisfaction and so was able to come up with reliable conclusions. The results showed a positive and strong correlation between workplace environment and job satisfaction. This study enhances the understanding of job satisfaction which can be used by managers to create a better workplace environment and boost employee performances.
... Współczesne badania dostarczają wiele dowodów na to, że skracanie czasu pracy, a tym samym łagodzenie konfliktu między pracą a obowiązkami rodzinnymi, jest uzasadnione w wymiarze ekonomicznym. Krótsze godziny pracy okazują się skutkować: wzrostem produktywności pracowników (mniej czasu przeznaczają na wykonanie swoich zadań) (Pencavel, 2018), polepszeniem ich stanu zdrowia, a także wyższą satysfakcją z życia (co m.in. przekłada się na zmniejszenie absencji w pracy) (Albertsen et al., 2008;Golden, 2012;Hayman, 2009). ...
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Taking the parent’s perspective, the essay addresses the issue of work-life balance. Based on the observed trends, I made an attempt to predict which changes may have the greatest impact on the possibilities of achieving balance in the future: (1) shortening the time spent on performing professional work, (2) wide spreading of tasks contracts, which will increase flexibility as to place and time of performing tasks; (3) spread of precarious employment; (4) increased fathers’ involvement of fathers in childcare. While separately described the changes are interdependent; at the same time, their consequences can be positive (facilitate work-life balance) or negative. Moreover, the described changes will not equally apply to all employees in the future.
... Współczesne badania dostarczają wiele dowodów na to, że skracanie czasu pracy, a tym samym łagodzenie konfliktu między pracą a obowiązkami rodzinnymi, jest uzasadnione w wymiarze ekonomicznym. Krótsze godziny pracy okazują się skutkować: wzrostem produktywności pracowników (mniej czasu przeznaczają na wykonanie swoich zadań) (Pencavel, 2018), polepszeniem ich stanu zdrowia, a także wyższą satysfakcją z życia (co m.in. przekłada się na zmniejszenie absencji w pracy) (Albertsen et al., 2008;Golden, 2012;Hayman, 2009). ...
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Full-text available
Taking the parents’ perspective, the paper addresses the issue of work-life balance. Based on the observed trends, the paper makes an attempt to predict which changes may have the greatest impact on the opportunities of striking balance in the future: (1) shortening the time spent on performing professional work, (2) wide spreading of task-based contracts, which will increase flexibility as to place and time of task performance; (3) expansion of precarious employment; (4) increasing fathers’ involvement in childcare. While separately described changes are interdependent their consequences can be positive (facilitate work-life balance) or negative. Moreover, the described changes will not apply equally to all employees in the future
Article
Climate change is a matter of extreme urgency. Integrating science and economics, this book demonstrates the need for measures to put a strict lid on cumulative carbon emissions and shows how to implement them. Using the carbon budget framework, it reveals the shortcomings of current policies and the debates around them, such as the popular enthusiasm for individual solutions and the fruitless search for 'optimal' regulation by economists and other specialists. On the political front, it explains why business opposition to the policies we need goes well beyond the fossil fuel industry, requiring a more radical rebalancing of power. This wide-ranging study goes against the most prevalent approaches in mainstream economics, which argue that we can tackle climate change while causing minimal disruption to the global economy. The author argues that this view is not only impossible, but also dangerously complacent.
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Some economists now predict that technology will eliminate many millions of jobs and lead to a future without work. Much debate focuses on the accuracy of such a prediction—whether, or at what rate, jobs will disappear. But there is a wider question raised by this prediction, namely the merits or otherwise of automating work. Beyond estimating future job losses via automation, there is the normative issue of whether the quality of life would be enhanced in a world where machines replace humans in work. Economics makes particular assumptions about the value of work and the nature of well-being that can address this normative issue. But a deeper enquiry into the scope for living well in a possible automated future requires us to think beyond the limits of standard economic theory and to engage in matters of relevance to business ethicists. This paper shows how automation raises crucial concerns about work—its meaning and contribution to well-being—and how the ability to envisage a better future of work depends on bridging the gap between economics and business ethics. Overall, the paper aims to further understanding of automation as a possible mechanism to raise well-being within work and beyond it.
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This article compares UK labour productivity during the Great Depression (GD) and the Great Recession (GR) in engineering, metal working, and allied industries. Over the downturn of the GD cycle, hourly labour productivity was countercyclical. Over the GR downturn, hourly productivity was procyclical. The combined flexibility of workers and hours, together with short-run diminishing returns, is argued to be the main drivers behind the GD productivity outcomes. There was less workers and hours responsiveness in the GR downturn. These differences are linked to educational and human capital arguments. Employers’ real-wage costs feature importantly in both depressions. In the GD, real hourly product wages rose steeply serving to encourage shorter work weeks, which produced positive impacts on average hourly labour productivity. Unusually, high-labour supply pressures in the GR acted to reduce real hourly product wages serving to protect the jobs of less efficient workers and to lower average hourly labour productivity.
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To what extent, if at all, should a just society adopt public policies that regulate and limit the amount of time people work? Attempts to answer this question face a dilemma: Either, we can adopt a laissez-faire view, according to which governments must refrain from imposing working time policies on the labour market. But this view generates a situation in which many citizens experience deep regret about the balance between work and leisure in their lives. Or, we can endorse an interventionist view that advocates government imposition of working time policies. However, such a view appears to be objectionably perfectionist insofar as it imposes on citizens a particular conception of the ideal balance between work and leisure. This article proposes a way out of this dilemma. It shows that the interventionist view can be defended on the anti-perfectionist grounds that this helps address a collective action problem in the labour market – the working time rat race. Employers often use working time as a proxy for their employees’ productivity and commitment. Those who work particularly long hours are often awarded benefits such as raises or promotions or are spared from dismissals. This makes it individually rational for each worker to work extra hours in an attempt to outcompete colleagues. However, if many workers pursue this strategy, it loses its effectiveness. Workers with preferences for more leisure have a claim to state intervention to remove the rat race when this doesn’t impose disproportionate harm on third parties.
Article
This paper presents the findings of the first empirical study of the experiences of young lawyers who have entered an increasingly uncertain profession following a highly competitive education and recruitment process. These ‘millennial lawyers’ are framed by a narrative of ‘difference’. This ‘difference’ is commonly articulated negatively and as a challenge to organisational and professional norms. However, our findings suggest a more complex reality. In its synthesis of work on structure and agency, with the temporal focus required by generational sociology, this paper advances an original approach to the analysis of organisational and professional change within contemporary legal practice. Drawing on new empirical research, it demonstrates that although our sample shares many field-level expectations, there is also considerable stress, unhappiness and discomfort. This is generated by a complex interaction between the lawyers’ expectations of practice, and the structuring properties of the field. Thus, the capacity for organisational and professional change is more comprehensively understood within a temporal frame. This paper challenges academic and professional paradigms of generational change within the legal field. It concludes with recommendations for legal educators and the profession which foreground the complexity of millennial lawyers’ expectations of practice.
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The authors produce estimates for a new and better rate of underemployment for 25 countries using the European Labor Force Survey that is based on workers’ reports of their preferred hours at the going wage. Both voluntary and involuntary part-time workers report they want more hours. Full-time workers who say they want to change their hours, mostly say they want to reduce them. When the Great Recession hit, the number of hours of those who said they wanted more hours increased, and the number of hours of those who said they wanted fewer hours decreased. The percentage of workers in both categories remains elevated. The authors provide evidence for the United Kingdom and the United States as well as from an international sample that underemployment lowers pay in the years after the Great Recession, but the unemployment rate does not. They also find evidence for the United States that decreases in the home ownership rate have helped to keep wage pressure in check. Underemployment replaces unemployment as the main influence on wages in the years since the Great Recession.