Abstracts from The Employment Dilemma and the Future of Work

8. Work as an element of personality

Under present prevailing conditions, full-time remunerated work, around at least 35-40 hours a week, is considered in most cases the only measure of an individual’s contribution to the productive activity. It is here, in most cases, where a large part of our social contacts are established and individuals find and define their place in society. In official forms there is always a question about our professional occupation just as there is always a question about our gender: our personality is very much linked to it. The entire network of social interaction is heavily dependant on our position in the (remunerated) working world and the scant honouring of other activities has lead to the perverse situation that somebody engaged in valuable non-monetised work — and here only the example of household and child education work shall be cited — receives much less that his due share of social recognition. It is obvious that this has adverse effects on motivation and self-esteem.
But many problems also lurk in the monetised sphere of the economy for its participants. Many people strongly identify themselves with their jobs, they have endured long years of education often going through a rigorous selection process to attain their current job. In addition, they are facing the constant risk of becoming redundant. Since the productive activity of every person lies at the heart of our economy, it is not surprising at all that the social focus on this element of personality is extremely pronounced.
Nevertheless, a series of other activities are gaining importance in a society that is sometimes characterised as one of leisure rather than work, a concept that is not entirely true since much of the so-called leisure time is spent on voluntary work. In Germany, between one fourth and one third of the male working age population engage in honorary work. In these cases, secondary or voluntary activities like sports, charities, community work etc. are also linked to the personality of the individual, more often than not in a very positive way. Even if these activities do not contribute directly to the monetised part of the economy, they are a valuable element that deserves recognition since they also add to the wealth and the welfare of people.
The increasing differentiation of the various kinds of productive work as complementary elements of personality is rather new. But it definitively helps in the judgement of the contribution of people to society and/or the economic system.
We recall once again our philosophical stance: we are much more what we produce than what we consume. Even consumption, in a Veblenian sense, is just a way to produce an image of ourselves. And the majority of people, we believe, are conscious that their value is very much linked to their level of self-esteem and usefulness in society. We definitely support the idea that in fact we consume and need to consume in order to produce, for ourselves and for society, rather than the other way around. In this context the question of work as an element of personality takes on a wholly new dimension.

9. Part-Time Work and Flexible Working Time

The question of part-time work is closely interconnected with general working-time and reductions in working-time. We should remember that what today is considered full-time would have during the last century corresponded to part-time work, since annual working hours declined from around 3,500 or 4,000 to under 2,000 for most industrialised countries. This development of steady working-time reduction has traditionally been part of the progress of allocating the gains accruing to workers from productivity growth between increases in income and increases in leisure time. Thus, the decline in weekly working hours and the increase in paid holidays observed throughout the industrialised world over many decades reflect the extent to which workers have taken productivity advances in the form of more leisure rather than higher income.
Today, in most ‘industrialised’ countries full-time employment consists of about 40 hours of work per week and is usually defined either by employers’ and labour organisations in mutual agreement or the legal system. Whenever we speak of part-time work we refer to arrangements that, based on the weekly work time of a full-time employee in a given industry, define the working time as a partial amount of that time. This part-time work comprises considerably less working hours that the full-time variant, in most cases 1/2, 1/3 or 2/3.
Besides the traditional form of full-time employment — whatever the total amount of working hours encompassed by the arrangement — we have witnessed an increase in part-time work places over the last years. Part-time working schedules appeal to employees who can enjoy a more individualised balance between work and leisure and to employers as a means to increase or fine-tune operating times and aquire cheaper labour. Part-time workers tend to be less expensive for employers due to the fact that their social contributions and wages are often reduced more than proportionally in comparison to full-time employees. This has lead in many countries to a controversial debate about how to handle part-time work and the challenges it creates for the tax and the social systems.
The introduction of part-time work on a broader basis has been an important step towards greater flexibility. It has also made a significant contribution to employment growth over the last 10 years. The OECD reckons that people’s demand for part-time work still remains high, suggesting a potential for a further development of such jobs in many countries.
The growing interest and government support in the recent past has lead to various measures designed to facilitate the creation of part-time workplaces, be they shared or not, and to enhance the employment rights of part-timers. Some countries have even introduced financial incentives to encourage the development of part-time employment in the private sector, like France where employers’ social security contributions are currently reduced by 30% on new part-time jobs. The public sector can play a leading role in responding to demands for more flexible working hours in general and more specifically part-time work.
As a feasible alternative to otherwise unavoidable redundancies the development of part-time work is equally possible in the public and in the private sectors. Part-time jobs in the public sector have grown in many countries notably and now account for a considerable proportion of the employed personnel, e.g. in Sweden, according to the 1985 census data, about 40% to 50% of women at the central state level work part-time. For the private non-agricultural sectors, the European Community estimated that 31% of women, but only 4% of men were employed in 1992 on a part-time basis. Although many men increasingly work full-time, it is women who make up the vast majority of part-time workers — about 85% in the EU.
The advantages of part-time work for all parties concerned are manifold. Besides the already mentioned ones, the development of part-time work can contribute to increase the number of people in employment, helping to cushion the socially and economically expensive division between employed and unemployed. Part-time workers may prove to be more productive and motivated than full-timers due to the reduced affects of fatigue, a better job organisation and the greater leisure time they enjoy. Improved possibilities to work part-time may also attract different groups of people who would otherwise not be in the labour force, thus increasing the productive capacity of the economy but diminishing the impact on recorded unemployment. These groups comprise married women with or without children, retirees wishing for a gradual reduction of their work-load instead of a sudden end, older workers with diverted interests, students who help financing their education etc.
More recently, the chronometrical dimension, i.e. the total amount of working-time, has increasingly been joined by the chronological element, i.e. the distribution of working-time over different periods of time — which is often what is meant when talking about flexible working. The time periods can be varying and range from a weekly or monthly distribution to yearly arrangements. Today in many companies employees (and employers) have the option to adapt their work time to the requirements of their job. While the overall amount of working hours remains constant, periods of over-time are compensated for either through additional holidays or intervals with reduced work time. however, there are often limits to how many hours of over-time an employee can accumulate and certain key operating times have always to be covered. Whereas today most arrangements operate on a monthly basis, there are initiatives to extend the time frame to yearly or even longer periods.
For the future, we imagine a combination of both elements, the chronometrical and the chronological, part-time and flexible time. Employees and employers would have the freedom to decide on personalised and specific amounts of work time for, say, a year in advance and the basic terms of how this work has to be accomplished. Within this framework the work is delivered as the job requires. Employees would gain the freedom to decide just what amount of work they are willing to do and adjust their distribution of work and leisure according to their own preferences. Employers would achieve higher flexibility within the arrangement and obtain a better motivated work force that would be more productive.

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