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Reduced hours of work and job sharing – an idea suited for North America?

appointment_missedIn a recent Globe and Mail video, author Juliet Schor discusses how reducing work hours might be the answer to some of the problems facing Canada’s workforce. Schor mentions that having employees work shorter hours decreases unemployment rates, lowers greenhouse emissions, and improves quality of life.

In countries like Germany and the Netherlands, employees work more than 300 fewer hours per year compared to North America. In addition to having lower unemployment rates and carbon emissions, those countries experience a higher quality of life because the focus is on being “time affluent” in addition to being financially affluent.

Schor also points out that during the financial collapse of 2008, Germany and the Netherlands were better able to weather the economic shock and didn’t experience high unemployment rates because employers there were able to reduce hours and share jobs among employees.

In North America, it seems as though things are moving in the opposite direction, with employees working more hours in their jobs and taking second jobs to make ends meet. In fact, second jobs are becoming increasingly necessary for many workers in several types of occupations. It is no longer only minimum-wage earners who feel pressured to find a second job.

This of course, can lead to problems, including employee burnout and conflicts with the employee’s first job.

Let’s explore job sharing. It is typically an employment arrangement where two people are retained on a part-time basis to perform a job normally filled by one person working full time. Research has demonstrated that net productivity increases when two people share the same 40-hour job.

This could be because job sharing helps to introduce a broader range of skills and experience to the workplace while providing a framework for continuity in the tasks performed. However, it also limits employees’ opportunities for career advancement.

Who job shares in Canada? Compared with other part-time workers, the small percentage of people in job-sharing positions are likely to be older, better educated, professional, unionized, and to have children at home. Also, compared to regular part-time work, shared jobs are more likely to provide higher permanency of work, hourly pay and quality of benefits.

It has also been suggested that job sharing could be used for pre-retirement workers to ease into part-time work and continue longer in the workforce.

Do your employees have second jobs, and do you find that they are experiencing burnout, or having conflicts with their two jobs? Do you think that reducing hours of work is a realistic option in Canada? Are you of the view that job sharing will become more popular in Canada in the near future given the expected number of retirements, and the increased value placed on work-life balance?

Christina Catenacci
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Christina Catenacci

Christina Catenacci, BA, LLB, LLM, was called to the Ontario Bar in 2002 and has since been a member of the Ontario Bar Association. Christina worked as an editor with First Reference between February 2005 and August 2015, working on publications including The Human Resources Advisor (Ontario, Western and Atlantic editions), HRinfodesk discussing topics in Labour and Employment Law. Christina has decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Western Ontario beginning in the fall of 2015. Read more
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