How Long? The Historical, Economic and Cultural Factors Behind Working Hours and Overwork (Chapter 23 in R. Burke, ed., Research Companion to Working Time and Work Addiction, E. Elgar.)
Posted: 27 Dec 2007
Date Written: December 2006
How long are hours of work and how many work hours are too many? The aims of this chapter are to address the following questions.What is the historical trend of hours of work per worker - are they getting longer, shorter or staying the same? When and among whom have they been rising? What forces and counterforces generally determine the length of individuals' work hours - economic, social-psychological-cultural, political-regulatory and institutional? How much of the trend in work hours is attributable to incentives and behavior of employers relative to employees? When do long hours of work generate symptoms of overwork for workers? How might overemployment (being employed beyond ones' initially preferred number of hours) eventually lead to either overwork or workaholism - an unforced addiction to work activity? Finally, how might we apply these key underlying determinants of work hours to address work addiction with potential policy levers, to regulate the (over)flow of work hours or minimize the incidence or conditions that might lead to workaholic behavior that results in negative social consequences? This chapter aims to refine the discussion of trends and patterns in work hours by delineating and distinguishing the related notions of long hours,overwork and overemployment and their potential implications for better understanding workaholism in the present. The first part of the chapter traces trends in the history of the length and distribution of working hours. The second develops a comprehensive approach to understanding the economic and other sources of these patterns. The third focuses on the distinct concepts of long hours, overwork and overemployment, and suggests how they may interact. The final section explores the implications of the determination of work hours for the most promising directions for future research on the nature and consequences of long hours of work.
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