Are You Really Doing More With Less?

Or are your people just working more hours?

Long time readers may recall that back in 2007, I did a 12-part series on Responsible Sourcing, inspired by the Responsible Sourcing Supplier Workbook from the John Lewis Partnership that was created to insure that companies that sourced from low-cost countries did so responsibly. However, as a result of the recent economic climate, I believe companies should be re-reading the workbook while analyzing their supply chain at home.

Why? Productivity is going up, but jobs aren’t coming back. There’s only two ways you can increase productivity in a jobless recovery.

  1. Adopt better processes and tools that allow for more efficient work.
  2. Work more hours.

And, to be honest, giving how spending came to a standstill during the recession, I don’t think many organizations improved their in-house toolsets. This only leaves “work more hours” as a likely explanation for the recovery. Given that, in 2006, 17% of employees worked more than 48 hours per week, and that, in South Korea, the average number of hours worked was 45 hours per week across the entire population, this is very worrisome. Now, I know the average number of hours worked in the US has been dropping since 2000, and the average number of hours worked in the UK has been dropping since 2005, but this includes hourly workers, whose hours have been cut as a result of the recession, as well as salary workers, which is where my concern lies.

While the average number of hours worked, after dropping in 2009, is roughly at 2008 levels, before the recession began, the average number of hours worked is rising and will have to continue to rise still if productivity is to increase without new hiring. And when 85.8% of males and 66.5% of females in the US are already working more than 40 hours per week, this is a very troubling thought. Americans are already working 137 hours more annually than the Japanese, 260 hours more annually than the British, and 499 hours more annually than the French (according to the ILO) — how much more can we work?

And what’s really scary is that the US is one of the few countries in the world that does not have a law mandating the maximum length of the work week! Over 134 countries have laws limiting how many hours an employee can be forced to work in a week. In Europe, the Working Time Regulation implements a maximum work week of 48 hours. This is on top of the fact that American workers average 10 paid holidays per year while British workers get 25 paid holidays and some European workers get 30 days. The way things are going, it won’t be long until Americans are working more than workers in 3rd world countries. And this is disturbing. Don’t you agree?

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