Can A Shorter Workweek Make People Happier?
For many people, the concept of a shorter workweek is enticing. After all, it can be difficult to find enough time for the things we love.
Is it reasonable then, in our quest for happiness, to begin working less? Advocates of a shorter workweek would agree, but these policies have yet to be widely-adopted.
What Happens When We Work Too Much?
The unhealthy side effects of working long hours are well established. In extreme cases, however, symptoms can extend beyond the usual stress and fatigue.
For example, the American Heart Association found that people under the age of 50 had a higher risk of stroke when working over 10 hours a day for a decade or more. Another study, conducted across 14 countries, concluded that people who worked long hours were 12% more likely to become excessive drinkers.
If working longer days is so harmful to our well-being, what happens if we work fewer hours instead?
Comparing the Numbers
The tables below list the happiest countries as well as the unhappiest countries in the OECD; happiness scores range from 0 to 10, with a 10 representing the best life possible.
Based on the data, there appears to be some degree of correlation between a person’s happiness and the amount of hours they work.
Here’s how the five happiest countries stack up:
|Country||Happiness Score (0-10)||5-Yr Average Annual|
|Difference in Hours Worked
from OECD Average (1,682 hrs)
|🇫🇮 Finland||7.769||1,559 hrs||-123 hrs|
|🇩🇰 Denmark||7.600||1,406 hrs||-276 hrs|
|🇳🇴 Norway||7.554||1,422 hrs||-260 hrs|
|🇮🇸 Iceland||7.494||1,491 hrs||-191 hrs|
|🇳🇱 Netherlands||7.488||1,432 hrs||-250 hrs|
The five happiest countries each work over 100 hours less than the OECD average. Compare this to the five least happiest countries:
|Country||Happiness Score (0-10)||5-Yr Average Annual |
|Difference in Hours Worked
from OECD Average (1,682 hrs)
|🇬🇷 Greece||5.287||1,946 hrs||+264 hrs|
|🇹🇷 Turkey||5.373||1,832 hrs||+150 hrs|
|🇵🇹 Portugal||5.693||1,722 hrs||+40 hrs|
|🇭🇺 Hungary||5.758||1,749 hrs||+67 hrs|
|🇯🇵 Japan||5.886||1,710 hrs*||+28 hrs|
*OECD data includes full- and part-time workers. While this affects the entire data set, Japan’s high share of part-time workers (37% as of 2017) suggests it is particularly vulnerable to underestimation.
Coincidentally, all five of the least happiest countries work more hours than the OECD average, up to over 264 hours in the case of Greece.
Happiness is multifaceted, though, and we should avoid drawing conclusions from a single variable. For instance, the World Happiness Report 2019 calculates happiness scores based on eight distinct metrics:
|#1||Positive Affect||The average of 3 measures: happiness, laughter, and enjoyment|
|#2||Negative Affect||The average of 3 measures: worry, sadness, and anger|
|#3||Social Support||Having someone to count on in times of trouble|
|#4||Freedom||The ability to make life choices|
|#5||Corruption||The perception of corruption throughout business and government|
|#6||Generosity||Based on survey results about charity donations|
|#7||GDP per Capita (Log Scale)||Economic output per person|
|#8||Healthy Life Expectancy||Years spent in good health|
With these in mind, we can make a few additional observations.
Four of the five happiest OECD countries are located in the Nordics, a region known for low corruption rates and robust social safety nets. On the other end of the scale, economic hardship is a recurring theme among the OECD’s least happiest countries. The falling Turkish lira and Greece’s debt crisis are two significant examples.
To properly measure the happiness-boosting potential of a shortened workweek, it seems we need to isolate its effects.
Challenging the Status Quo
Employers are now experimenting with shorter work schedules to see if happier employees are in fact better employees.
Case 1: Successful Trial
Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand-based estate planning firm, trialed a four-day workweek for two months with no changes to compensation.
The trial was hailed as a success. Employee stress levels fell by 7 percentage points while overall life satisfaction rose by 5 percentage points. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that productivity remained the same.
Employees designed a number of innovations and initiatives to work in a more productive and efficient manner.
– Helen Delaney, University of Auckland
Following the trial, the firm’s founder expressed interest in implementing the four-day workweek on a permanent basis.
Case 2: Successful Trial with Trade-offs
Filimundus, a Sweden-based software studio, trialed a six-hour workday in 2014. Staff reception was positive, and the company has since adopted it permanently.
There were trade-offs, however. While staff enjoyed more time for their private lives, productivity across different departments saw mixed results.
We did see some decrease in production for some staff, mostly our artists, but an increase in production for our programmers. So money-wise, in costs, it evened out.
– Linus Feldt, CEO
Interestingly, the studio also trialed a seven-hour workday, and saw no positive effects.
Case 3: An Unsustainable Solution
Public healthcare workers in Gothenburg, Sweden, trialed a six-hour workday for two years. Similar to the first case, compensation was unchanged.
While the trial achieved good results—staff experienced lower stress levels and patients received a higher level of care—the policy was unsustainable.
It’s far too expensive to carry out a general shortening of working hours within a reasonable time frame.
– Daniel Bernmar
17 additional staff were hired to compensate for the shorter workdays, increasing the local government’s payroll by $738,000. The city council did note, however, that lower unemployment costs offset this increase by approximately 10%.
Picking Up Momentum
These experiments are garnering attention from around the world.
Even Japan, a country known for its “overtime culture”, is getting in on the action. Microsoft offices in the East Asian country tested a four-day workweek in August 2019, and reported happier staff, as well as an impressive 40% boost in productivity.
While the results of these early experiments are indeed promising, they’ve exposed the nuances that exist between industries and job types, and the need for further trials. One thing is certain though—shorter workweek policies should not be interpreted as a “one size fits all” solution for happier lives.
The 44 Closest Stars and How They Compare to our Sun
This graphic visualizes the 44 closest stars, revealing key facts such as distance from Earth, brightness, and whether potential planets are in orbit.
44 Closest Stars and How They Compare to our Sun
Humans have been fascinated by the stars in the night sky since the dawn of time.
We’ve been decoding the mysteries of celestial bodies for many centuries, but it is only in the last 200 years or so that we’ve been able to glean more detailed information on the lights that dot the night sky. Friedrich Bessel’s method of stellar parallax was a breakthrough in accurately measuring the positions of stars, and opened new doors in the effort to map our universe. Today, high-powered telescopes offer even more granular data on our cosmic neighborhood.
The infographic above, from Alan’s Factory Outlet, categorizes the 44 closest stars to Earth, examining the size, luminosity, constellations, systems, and potential planets of each star.
Our Nearest Stellar Neighbors
Our closest neighboring stars are all part of the same solar system: Alpha Centauri. This triple star system – consisting of Proxima Centauri, Alpha Centauri A, and Alpha Centauri B – attracts a lot of interest because it hosts planets, including one that may be similar to Earth.
The planet, Proxima Centauri b, is a lot closer to its star than Earth is to the Sun. However, because Proxima Centauri is a smaller and cooler red dwarf type star, the planet’s orbit is within the habitable zone. It’s thought that Proxima Centauri b receives approximately the same amount of solar energy as Earth does from our Sun.
Here’s a full list of the 44 of the closest stars to Earth:
|Star Name||Distance (light years)||MoE|
|α Centauri A||4.37||±0.0068|
|α Centauri B||4.37||±0.0068|
|Luyten 726-8 A||8.79||±0.012|
|Luyten 726-8 B||8.79||±0.012|
|EZ Aquarii A||11.11||±0.034|
|61 Cygni A||11.40||±0.0012|
|61 Cygni B||11.40||±0.0012|
|Struve 2398 A||11.49||±0.0012|
|Struve 2398 B||11.49||±0.0012|
|Groombridge 34 A||11.62||±0.0008|
|Groombridge 34 B||11.62||±0.0008|
|Kruger 60 A||13.07||±0.0052|
|Kruger 60 B||13.07||±0.0052|
|Wolf 424 A||14.05||±0.26|
|Van Maanen's star||14.07||±0.0023|
Even though we see many of these stars in the night sky, humans aren’t likely to see them in person any time soon. To put these vast distances into perspective, if the Voyager spacecraft were to travel to Proxima Centauri, it would take over 73,000 years to finally arrive.
The Brightest Stars in the Sky
The closest stars aren’t necessarily the ones most visible to us here on Earth. Here are the top 10 stars in terms of visual brightness from Earth:
|Rank||Proper name||Constellation||Visual magnitude (mV)||Distance (light years)|
|4||Rigil Kentaurus & Toliman||Centaurus||−0.27 (0.01 + 1.33)||4.4|
Excluding our Sun, the brightest star visible from Earth is Sirius, or the Dog Star. Sirius, which is about 25 times more luminous than the sun, visually punctuates the constellation Canis Major.
Filling in the Gaps
The next step in learning more about our surroundings in the cosmos will be seeing which of the stars listed above have planets orbiting them. So far, the 44 stars in the infographic have over 40 planets scattered among them, though new discoveries are made all the time.
With each new mission and discovery, we learn a little bit more about our pocket of the universe.
Visualizing the True Size of Land Masses from Largest to Smallest
Maps can distort the size and shape of countries. This visualization puts the true size of land masses together from biggest to smallest.
The True Size of Land Masses from Largest to Smallest
Is Greenland the size of the entire African continent?
But looking at a map based on the Mercator projection, you would think so.
Today’s infographic comes from the design studio Art.Lebedev and shows the true size of the world’s land masses in order from largest to smallest using data from NASA and Google.
Check out the actual shape and size of each land mass without any distortions.
Distorting Reality: Mercator Misconceptions
Maps can deceive your eyes but they are still powerful tools for specific purposes. In 1569, the legendary cartographer, Gerardus Mercator, created a new map based on a cylindrical projection of sections of the Earth. These types of maps were suited for nautical navigation since every line on the sphere is a constant course, or loxodrome.
Despite the map’s nautical utility, the Mercator projection has an unwanted downside. The map type increases the sizes of land masses close to the poles (such as in North America, Europe, or North Asia) as a side effect. As a result, Canada and Russia appear to take up approximately 25% of the Earth’s surface, when in reality these nations only occupy 5%.
“Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many.” – Phaedrus
This collection of images above represents the world’s land masses in their correct proportions. Measurements are based on Google Maps 2016 and NASA Earth Observatory maps, with calculations based on the WGS84 reference ellipsoid, or more simply, a specific model of the Earth’s shape in two dimensions.
We take for granted Google Maps and satellite imaging. Making these accurate representations is no small task – the designers went through six steps and many different iterations of the graphic.
Countries are arranged by descending size and shown without external or dependent territories. For example, the total area for the contiguous United States shown does not include Hawaii, Alaska, or overseas territories.
Top 10 Largest Land Masses
Although Mercator maps distort the size of land masses in the Northern Hemisphere, many of these countries still cover massive territories.
|United States (contiguous)||7,654,643|
The top 10 land masses by size account for 55% of the Earth’s total land. The remainder is split by the world’s 195 or so other countries.
Top 10 Smallest Land Masses
Here are the 10 tiniest jurisdictions highlighted on the map:
While the Earth’s land surface has been claimed by many authorities, the actual impact of human activity is less than one would think.
Human Impact: Humbled by Nature
Political borders have claimed virtually every piece of land available. Despite this, only 20% of land on the planet has been visibly impacted by human activity, and only 15% of Earth’s land surface is formally under protection.
The remaining 80% of the land hosts natural ecosystems that help to purify air and water, recycle nutrients, enhance soil fertility, pollinate plants, and break down waste products. The value of maintaining these services to the human economy is worth trillions of U.S. dollars each year.
While some nations are not as big as they look on the map, every piece of land counts.
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