Shorter Work Hours Don’t Mean Happier Employees

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South Korea recently implemented the Five-Day Working Policy, which makes Saturday an official non-working day and cuts weekly work hours from 44 to 40. Less work, more play, right?

Not necessarily. The intentions behind the move were pure: people would have more time to relax, the country’s leisure economy would blossom and workers would no longer be exhausted from their extended hours and might be spared high rates of job injuries.

Alas, that wasn’t exactly what happened.

Robert Rudolf, a researcher at Korea University in Seoul, looked at the results of a highly comprehensive national survey of urban Korean households, called the Korean Labor and Income Panel Survey, which questioned residents between the years 1998 to 2008. According to those surveyed, the policy did not result in greater life satisfaction for men or women, although women report liking the measure a bit more. Women tend to struggle the most with the burden of the work-life balance, and therefore actually did see benefits from less hours at work. However, the relief from having more hours at home was offset by greater stress at work, since the hours were fewer but the demands either remained unchanged or increased.

The study, which was published online in the Journal of Happiness Studies, suggests that either shorter hours are not providing the benefits they’re supposed to, or work stress intensifies when production hours are cut. Either way, the shorter work week seemed to be a bust from the satisfaction perspective.

So are long work days not so bad after all? That’s not so clear either, but the answer may depend on the type of work you do. If you need to be creative, lunching with colleagues and taking social breaks can be a boon, while the same doesn’t hold if you’re an accountant and need to focus and pay attention to detail. Work hours are also heavily influenced by culture; in the U.S., people are generally encouraged to take a break for lunch during the work day — to ease just the tensions that the South Korean policy was hoping to address. For more tips on how to get the most out of a work day break, read our suggestions, here.