Doctor Sanjay Gupta, the CNN health correspondent, stated in an interview that businessmen on Wall Street carry stress like a badge of honor and consider the twenty hour work day as normal. This is the mantra of the free market economy and has become entrenched with the rapid march of capitalism in the twenty first century. Although businesses worldwide are continually pushing for longer working hours and zero free time, the Danes have opted for a four day work week and a working day that ends at four thirty and seem to be doing just fine. There is a lesson to be learnt here: longer working hours and being constantly on call is bad for the workers and corporate business.
Staff in the modern workplace is literally chained to their company with fiberoptic cables thanks to smart technology and are expected to be on call 24/7; turning off the phone or failing to check emails that arrive in the small hours is considered a cardinal sin. Constant vigilance by the powers that be will, it is hoped, increase the company’s share of the market and accordingly, corporate profits. On paper, this seems to make a lot of sense: if the eight hour working day brings in a certain amount of revenue, surely the twenty hour working day should bring in more than twice that but this is a logical fallacy for one important reason: it is assumed that the staff will work with the same level of efficiency at the same pace for the entirety of the working day. Even though some bosses may think this is nonsense and that provided the umbilical cord that connects the worker to the company is not severed, the business will prosper, they couldn’t be more wrong.
The first spanner in the works is the nature of the individuals making up the workforce: they are humans and not cyborgs. Although some would like to tut-tut it as sentimental nonsense, they have feelings and individual needs; not to mention the fact that they get tired and bored. When feelings and needs are ignored, distress is the inevitable result. Unhappiness certainly does not equal full concentration or efficiency; keeping people chained to their desks or on call 24/7 doesn’t mean they will be able to brush aside their feelings and devote their full attention to the job in hand. Exhaustion too is a fact of life; people cannot just be plugged in and recharged like mobile devices; they are recharged in completely different ways, ways that do not involve the workplace. Pretending all this can be ignored is a very short sighted view.
The Danes seem to have cottoned on to this fact well ahead of everyone else and have taken some drastic measures: a shorter work week and a shorter work day this being the most efficient way to deal with those toxic feelings of exhaustion and boredom on the one hand, and the frustration engendered by the feeling that one is frittering one’s life away doing something that is neither stimulating nor pleasurable on the other. By allowing employees to leave work at four thirty, the Danish government is encouraging closer relations between family members and members of close knit social communities; it is enabling working people to devote time to hobbies and interests and to broadening their horizons. In brief, it is pushing them to be happy and satisfied, and where is the harm in that?
CEO’s of big companies may well throw their hands up in despair and claim that profits will go down the drain and the companies will go bankrupt if every whim of employees is thus pandered to but they couldn’t be more wrong. Happy, satisfied and fulfilled people concentrate much better; focus brings efficiency, which in turn impacts output. Bright eyed and bushy tailed, the staff devote their all to the job in hand improving both quality and quantity. This attitude will, not surprisingly, foster devotion to the company and a concern with its future. A little common sense will, in short, boost corporate profits and keep everyone happy. It is no surprise that the Danes have been voted the happiest people in Europe.
To sum up just because the whip or the carrot was considered the most effective way to get the best out of people by so many for such a long time does not mean the system was right as has been proven again and again in the modern world. Putting a ping pong table in the lobby like one company has done is not enough either. Corporate bosses should accept that people work in order to live; they should, therefore, allow their work force to do so for everyone’s sake.