Are we in Bahrain working hard or are we hardly working? How do companies here measure productivity? Is it the number of hours clocked by employees? Is it the number of tasks completed? Or is it simply the revenues that most bosses care about?
We are not used to taking into consideration human behavioural patterns to assess and address shortcomings in the system. It’s mostly a one-point agenda; produce results or take an exit. But that’s not how it works in first world economies.
Having read myriad articles and listened to tonnes of podcasts about how problems are encountered and solved, I have settled with the belief that many companies in the West give priority to the satisfaction of their workforce and this leads to increased productivity.
Continuous research is done to see what factors increase employee motivation, decrease employee turnover and increase productivity; governments then use this research to come up with legislation to protect workers’ rights; and trade unions bargain on the basis of these laws to get the best for the workforce. In a way, the whole society is in tandem. And that’s why they flourish.
Now take, for example, the work week in Bahrain. Employees in the private sector can legally be asked to work up to 48 hours. Has anyone really researched if this is even productive?
Compare that with France’s 35-hour week and 29 of the Netherlands and most other countries working 40 hours.
It was in 1917 that Robert Owen, a Welsh activist, advocated shorter work days with his slogan: “Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.”
The way I see it, long days can be brutal and unproductive, and might not necessarily lead to increased focus or success. A key point to understand is that our limiting factor for productivity is mental energy, not time.
Research shows that a worker is only productive for three to six hours. Beyond that time is simply whiled away. This means extra costs for the company for nothing; more utility bills, more wastage of office resources, and not to mention a less happy workforce.
Meanwhile, developed economies have continuously been testing different work schedules. Sweden, years back successfully experimented with a six-hour workday, and reported “higher profits and better morale”. And now some countries are also toying with a four-day week.
Recently Bahrain adopted the work-from-home programme for government employees, something that is already in practice in developed countries. And although like any system that comes with pros and cons, it is nevertheless a welcome change.
And while each country has its own set of peculiarities it takes into consideration when deciding what works best for its people and economy, I suggest Bahrain also does a bit of soul searching. Hard times call for out of the box thinking (don’t mind the cliché).
Imagine reducing the workday by two hours. This adds up to saving 12 hours per week and 48 hours per month (in resources). In these times of reduced economic activity, it only makes sense to cut down on avoidable costs. If staying longer in work cannot add to productivity, then maybe it’s time to go home early.