Shortening the work week does not harm productivity and may even improve it according to a review of studies conducted by the Knesset Research and Information Center at the request of chairperson of the Work Life Balance Lobby, Member of Knesset (MK) Naama Lazimi (Labor).

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The Knesset Research Center’s findings were based on studies conducted by the governments of Iceland, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates, Scotland, Belgium and the State of Utah in the United States, as well as a series of experiments conducted by private market research companies in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, USA, Japan and more. These studies investigated the potential impact of reducing the number of weekly working hours as well as the possibility of reducing the number of work days per week.

The Center published a document acknowledging that according to these experiments, employee productivity did not necessarily decrease and in fact sometimes increased, both due to the shortening of the hours of the day and due to the shortening of the work week. However, it noted that shortening the work week to four days by extending the number of daily work hours may lead to a reduction in labor productivity due to the law of diminishing marginal productivity. In other words, the last working hours of the day are less productive than the earlier hours (especially given that Israelis already work comparatively long hours).

From improving efficiency to increasing growth in the economy: The possible effects of shortening the workweek

The shortening of the work week is expected to push employers to shorten meetings, prioritize tasks and measure productivity based on performance and not just hours. The studies that accompanied the experiments also found that in workplaces which shortened the work week, there was a decrease in the utilization of sick days along with an improvement in employee well-being, and these may also contribute to long-term productivity.

It was further concluded that such a shortening may require the recruitment of additional employees, which involves additional costs and requires a larger reserve of employees in the various industries. However it may also incentivize companies to increase their investments in physical capital, automation processes, and robotics in order to mitigate the extra human labor, which may also increase productivity.

The studies examined by the Center showed that shortening the work week can leave vacationing employees the opportunity to take advantage of their free day for recreation and leisure, including shopping, rather than just rest. The researchers estimated that this may increase consumption in the cultural and leisure industries. Such a move could also save parents money on childcare frameworks, which might enable them to redirect those funds to further consumption.

The researchers also noted that shortening the work week may help lower unemployment, and therefore increase economic growth. Such an impact is expected to be particularly pronounced during a recession. Furthermore, shorter work days may enable populations with low employment rates, such as parents of young children, to be more easily integrated into the labor market. While the transition to a shorter work week would be voluntary, companies may be incentivized to adopt such reforms in order to make themselves attractive workplaces for talented employees.

Average work hours per week and per year are about 9% higher in Israel than in most OECD countries. Israel has an average of 40.6 hours per week, compared with an average of 37.3 in developed countries (the official working week in Israel is 42 hours, while in most OECD countries it is 40). The proportion of employees who work over 50 hours a week is also higher – 14.1% compared to 10.2%. The minimum number of working days in Israel is 25 compared to the OECD average of 30.

Correspondingly, Israeli workers have indicated in surveys and studies that they are dissatisfied with the balance between their work and personal life. On the other hand, the average productivity of the Israeli worker was 9.17% lower than the average productivity per worker in OECD countries.

"Together with the workers' organizations we will bring the issue to the Minister of Finance"

"Everyone is talking about the cost of living, but not enough is being said about the wearying hours and the lack of work-life balance. We work too hard and get too little,” said the chair of the Work Life Balance lobby, MK Naama Lazimi, who requested the review.

MK Naama Lazimi opens the first session of the Work Life Balance lobby in the Knesset (Photo: Mike Yudin)

"We are human beings with diverse desires, needs and aspirations, and we all deserve the opportunity to realize them, along with investing in family, social life and leisure. Being enslaved to work hurts us physically and mentally; we get used to thinking that this is the reality and that there is no alternative, but that’s not the case. The research I initiated proves the claim that a happier employee is a better employee. It confirms that shortening working hours per week helps the employee's mental state and their output, that a day off allows the public to consume more and help the economy, and the research shows that even air pollution is reduced.”

Lazimi promised that "together with the workers' and employers' organizations leading the issue, I intend to approach the Minister of Finance with the results of the study and form a coalition which will lead to a more correct balance between family life and the world of work. It may sound far-fetched, but I believe it is the way to deal with a changing global labor market alongside the need to balance work and life, for a healthier society."

This article was translated from Hebrew by Hannah Blount.