Capacity Utilisation, Working Time and the Quality of Work
Human beings face a double restriction in relation to time and its use. Firstly, time is clearly the ultimate scarce resource; there are only 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week and 52 weeks in a year. Although there are activities that can be done simultaneously, such as listening to the radio and cooking, generally speaking the time we devote to something, to work for example, has to be taken out of other activities, such as raising a family, or enjoying a film. Each person faces, therefore, an opportunity cost in terms of time in every activity he or she does. Secondly, human beings are social animals and the use of time is socially modelled. Since history has been recorded, men and women have coordinated their activities in order to work during certain hours, and rest and amuse themselves at other times; for historical and cultural reasons, using the words of the Ecclesiastes, “to everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven”. Some of these patterns of time use are biologically determined (circadian cycle, night and day, etc.), while others are explained by cultural factors.
Throughout history, the amount of time used to perform productive activities has followed an inverted U shape, rising with the arrival of agriculture and husbandry and even further with the coming of the industrial age, reaching a maximum at the end of the 18th century, and diminishing since then. So generally speaking, we can say that nowadays workers in high income countries devote less time to work than a century ago. But along with this process of reduction of working time, according to many analysts the last few decades have witnessed a slow process of destandardisation of working time.1 The once dominant rigid distribution of time between work, leisure and rest, represented by the “9 to 5” job, has become less common.2 If we assume that the old time system of coordination of activities, so as to have most people doing the same things (working, resting, amusing themselves) at the same time, had a rationality based on individual and social preferences, this change will have an impact on the work-life balance of workers.
KeywordsShift Work Working Time Night Shift Capacity Utilisation European Foundation
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