Reducing working hours is a trend that keeps spreading in developed European countries, and while the Czech Republic is expected to join this trend at some point in the future, Czechs currently work hundreds of hours a year more than Germans.
The most productive economies have a relatively short working week. In first place for productivity are Luxembourgers who work an average of 29 hours a week. In third are Norwegians, in sixth are Danes, and ninth spot goes to the Dutch who work a little over 27 hours.
Workers in richer countries tend to work fewer hours than those in poorer countries due to the fact that in richer countries, workers can produce more for every hour of work, which translates into higher incomes and the ability to work less.
"I work longer, I should do more too. Earn more. Get a better life." This is roughly what the initial idea is, but only if the well-known law of diminishing marginal productivity is not taken into account. In other words, the increments of labor produced may not correspond at all to the time spent working. Someone working only 12 hours may produce far more than someone working 20 hours depending on their aptitude, abilities, education, and a range of other factors.
In many cases, with longer working hours leads to concentration decreasing, as well as enthusiasm and motivation while fatigue can increase. In other words, as the number of hours worked increases, productivity can decline rapidly.
Czechia lags behind the developed world
And it is labor productivity in the Czech Republic that is currently relatively low in comparison with other developed countries. This can be seen in the latest data for selected countries, which are based on the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and compare productivity (in dollars) per person per hour.
Shorter working hours - why not?
The coronavirus pandemic and changes associated with it also provide new insights into the economy and employment. The Spanish government came up with one such idea as the country is preparing to launch a pilot project for a four-day working week.
A group of British Labour Party members also suggested a four-day working week as a possible solution for the period following repeated lockdowns.
According to Joe Ryle of the British 4-Day Week Campaign, "the popularity and dynamics of this concept have been growing since the coronavirus struck."
The sudden shift to work from home "opened eyes to many people, and they found that change is possible and can happen very quickly if we want it".
According to him, by spending more time at home, people better realized what was important in their lives.
The British think tank Autonomy calculated in December that the transition to a four-day working week would cost between £1.4 billion (€1.6 billion) and £2 billion (€2.3 billion) a year. However, if the state decided to move forward with the plan, 45,000 to 59,000 new jobs would be created at the same time, which could help the state by saving on social benefits.
Of course, shorter working hours do not automatically lead to higher productivity. This depends not only on the efforts and motivation of workers but also on the level of education and technology, which is naturally more advanced in richer countries.
Czechs have been working eight hours a day for more than 100 years
Can Czechia look for inspiration in this? According to the head of the Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Union, Josef Středula, the answer is yes, although foreign experience is less transferable.
"As for the length of working hours, eight hours was enacted more than a hundred years ago as one of the first laws of the newly formed Czechoslovak Republic, and it has not changed since then," said Středula.
Are Czech workers overworked due to longer periods of work?
"If we look at the length of working hours and the intensity of work in an international comparison, for sure. They have a longer working week, so compared to their colleagues in Germany, they will work an extra ten years in their 40-year career.”
Title image: Workers leave the Skoda car factory in Mlada Boleslav, Czech Republic, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. The labor unions at Skoda Auto that belong to the Volkswagen Group have demanded a two-week quarantine for all workers over fears of the coronavirus. They said the measure would possibly prevent the spreading of the virus among the employees. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)