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Relaxing / Photo credit: Björn Söderqvist

British entrepreneur Richard Koch has invented the “80/20 Principle” that argues we get 80% of our work done in 20% of our work time, and the remaining 20% of our work gets done in 80% of the time. Israel’s official work week is 43 hours long, but many Israelis work many more hours than what’s common in the OECD, and still, productivity in Israel is low. The question organized Labor and the employers have been debating over the past few weeks, ahead of upcoming legislation to modify the Israeli work week, has been: will a shorter week reduce even further or enhance productivity?

On Sunday, the Ministerial Legislative Committee headed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) is expected to debate four different proposals dealing with the shorter work week. The leading bill, submitted by MK Eli Cohen (Kulanu) and endorsed by a number of MKs, proposes starting the shorter work week reform with one Sunday off every two months.

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“Initially, we were talking about one long weekend a month, starting Thursday night and going through Monday morning,” Cohen said in a recent interview on Radio 103FM. However, he explained, “after many debates, which included Histadrut trade union Chairman Avi Nissenkorn and representatives of the Israeli industrialists and other players, we’ve formed the proposal we’re submitting to the ministerial committee, which talks about six long weekends a year.”

The employers’ organizations object to the move, but by week’s end it appeared they’d acquiesce, after the threat of 12 long weekends was reduced by half. They estimate the damage to the economy at about $2 billion annually. It’s interesting to see that in addition to traditional capitalist employers organizations such as the Manufacturers Association, and the Chamber of Commerce, the long weekend enemies also include the Kibbutz Industries Association and the Farmers’ Union. We expect that more than a few Labor Zionists, including former Histadrut chairmen David Ben-Gurion, are rolling in their grave.

The average OECD work week is between 35 and 40 hours, and Israeli workers receive fewer religious and state holidays than their OECD counterparts. And yet, despite their shorter work week, German and American workers’ productivity is significantly higher than in Israel. Is this counterintuitive?

Stanford University Professor John Pencavel has argued that working longer hours increases fatigue and stress that leads to a greater probability of errors and accidents that will decrease productivity. Likewise, Marianna Virtanen of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health found that overwork can result in health problems leading to absenteeism, greater employee turnover rates, and higher health insurance costs. A 2013 paper by the New Zealand Productivity Commission showed that working longer hours does not make people more productive.

A recent study by the OECD revealed that more productive workers tend to work less: while Greek workers put in an average of 2,000 hours of work per year, Germans worked only 1,400 hours per year and were 70% more productive. More productive workers tend to be better paid, not worse, contrary to what the Israeli employers are predicting, and the correlation between higher productivity and fewer hours worked is due to the reduced fatigue and stress from working less.

CEO Maria Brath of the tech start-up Brath has implemented a six-hour, as opposed to an eight-hour, work day, claiming that her employees get more done in that time than comparable companies do in the longer work day. Treehouse, an online interactive education platform, uses a four-day work day and claims that employee morale, retention, and quality of output, have all improved. (Source: Investopedia)

Will Israel, known for its national obsession with plunging into new, radical changes, take on this moderate change? We’ll know more on Sunday.

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