Louis Riel Day might not just be a good day to take it easy, but to boost your productivity, too

Louis Riel Day is coming up on Monday, Feb. 15. For many Manitobans, it will be an extra opportunity to sleep in and an extra day on which to go to a show, play with the kids, or just hang out with friends or family.

I expect that in the days leading up to it, we’ll read yet another missive in at least one of the city’s two newspapers about how bad the February long weekend is for our economy, complete with someone’s calculation of how many millions of dollars it’s costing the Manitoba economy.

On the surface, that number seems easy enough to come up with. Go to the OECD’s web site and you’ll (eventually) find their labour market statistics. In 2008, Canada’s 17.4 million employees worked an average of 1,727 hours each. Divide Canada’s GDP — the size of our economy — by the total number of hours worked, and each hour was worth $43.20 U.S. or $53.14 Cdn.

So, for someone who would otherwise be working seven hours on Monday (9-5, with an hour for lunch), that’s $371.98 in lost productivity down the drain, more or less, right?


Not necessarily.

To see the absurdity of such a calculation, consider the opposite scenario. A future Manitoba government announces that in order to boost productivity, it will be amending the Employment Standards Code to increase the standard work week to 50 hours and to tighten up meal breaks. Announcing the new legislation, the Labour Minister says that Manitoba’s productivity is expected to increase 5 to 10 percent because of this move.

Anyone who knows that the basic measurement of productivity is total economic output divided by total hours worked would dismiss the minister as merely some poorly informed politician talking out of his/her backside. Anyone who has ever worked in an organization with a long-hours culture would know that the idea that a longer work week will lead to greater productivity is hogwash — that such cultures discourage innovation because there’s no reward to be gained from finding faster, more efficient ways to do things.

Those same OECD stats mentioned above back up that conclusion. The chart you see below shows the relationship between how many hours the average worker puts in during a year and how much value is added to the economy by each of those hours.

As the hours go up, the benefit gained from every additional hour goes down.

As the second chart shows, the evidence also suggests that countries with shorter working hours tend to get more value out of the average employee, though the relationship isn’t quite as strong.

Why do countries with shorter working hours tend to do better? Part of the reason is because they have moved away from forms of work that require a lot of work in exchange for relatively little reward, such as subsistence farming or low-tech manufacturing.

Others get a productivity boost out of natural resource wealth (e.g., Norway and its oil) or their status as financial hubs (e.g., Luxembourg).

However, there are some high-tech countries, like Japan and South Korea, that also continue to have shockingly poor productivity levels.  (Japanese workers produce less economic value out of each hour spent on the job than Spanish workers, while South Korean workers make less use out of each hour than the Greeks or the Portuguese, and are only just barely more productive than the Czechs or Hungarians.)

Their problem lies in the fact that, like some other Asian countries, that there’s a culture that values putting in “face time” at the office, even if it means spending 12 hours doing what could reasonably be accomplished in eight hours. The strongly hierarchical cultures found in both Japan and South Korea discourage people from questioning this status quo, even though it’s doing neither their economies nor their quality of life much good.

Both countries would benefit from encouraging people to take full weekends and to head for home at 5 p.m. Not only would this provide an incentive for people to make better use of their time, it might encourage them to use some of their new-found leisure time to go out, spend some money and stimulate the economy.

So, too, might our own productivity benefit from taking this coming Monday off, and heading back to work on Tuesday well-rested and prepared to make the best use of the remaining four days of the work week.

Enjoy your Louis Riel Day.

An update on last summer’s post about the prospect of a new FM radio station in Gimli. The CRTC announced this morning that they have awarded a licence to William Gade to start up a new Gimli FM station. Gade’s application was for a low-powered (1,640-watt) station on 93.7 which would play a country-pop-rock format. The signal would also cover Winnipeg Beach.

Another low-power transmitter in Arborg would relay the signal to that community.

The CRTC turned down a rival application by Riding Mountain Broadcasting, Inc. for a higher-powered Adult Contemporary station whose signal might have been audible as far south as the northern outskirts of Winnipeg.

In an unusual move, the CRTC asked Gade to find another frequency for his station, having decided that the 93.7 slot assigned to Gimli could be put to better use in Winnipeg or southern Manitoba, where usable FM frequencies are becoming scarce.

Last month, Gade was also awarded a licence to launch a low-powered FM station in Neepawa that would also play a country-pop-rock format on 97.1 FM.


About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

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