KUALA LUMPUR: Imagine this scenario: After getting off from work, parents happily fetch their children from school. Instead of rushing straight home, they stop at a nearby lake park, enjoying a stroll in the late afternoon sun before heading home together for a family dinner.
Scenario two: the bachelor. As soon as work is over he hurries over to his guitar class. He is a civil servant but still dreams of becoming a professional musician. The classes allow him to let off steam in a healthy way and feel good about himself.
He carries the energy into the night. Inspired to pay it forward, he decides to utilise his skills with numbers to provide free Mathematics tuition to children in the neighbourhood.
Both scenarios seem rather far-fetched in today’s world. Today’s workers spend over nine hours at work, leaving by dawn and returning at dusk.
They spend a lot of time and energy in commute, stressing out in their cars during traffic jams or rushing to get into packed public transportations.
To quote the famous Malaysian Muslim preacher Ustaz Kazim Elias, “We get on the road at the crack of dawn. If we don’t, we would see ‘red’ on our punch cards. If we’re lucky, we will be able to reach home by dusk – provided there will not be rain, road accident or stalled vehicle obstructing the traffic on the way home.
“We would “tapau” (take-away) our dinner. Forget about taking the children out for a stroll.
“For the single ones, if they are not too tired, perhaps they would find time to have a chat with friends.”
STRESSFUL LIFESTYLES CAUSE SOCIAL ILLS
Whether or not we want to admit it, the constant rushing around is giving us chronic stress and adversely affecting our health.
A stressful lifestyle is also among the key factors to the rise of social ills in society.
The Health Ministry recently exposed that an average of 18,000 teenagers in Malaysia are pregnant every year and seek out treatment at government health clinics.
Of the figure, 25 per cent or roughly 4,500 cases involved teens who were pregnant out of wedlock.
This is only the surface of the problem. What lurks below could be darker and far more terrifying, especially when we factor in the problems of drugs, gangsterism and others.
Could this be the price we are paying for almost completely outsourcing the parenting of our children to others, such as schools and daycare services?
It is also unwise to simply expect mothers to resign from work so that they could fully concentrate on their children.
It should be acknowledged that not all families have similar economic advantages. If a mother was also an obstetrician, having her quit her job would be huge loss to the community. At the same time, it is also unhealthy to expect her to give in more to the demands of her vocation than the needs of her children.
What about the single people? Yes, perhaps they have a little bit more time to spend after work. However, would it not be better if they were given the time and space for personal enrichment activities as well as to serve their family and local community?
THE SOLUTION: SHORTER WORK HOURS
A feasible and helpful measure is if the current working hours are reduced from the usual eight to nine hours to only six hours a day.
This has been implemented in Sweden with the main objective of improving productivity.
In an online article by the British daily The Guardian, Sweden first tested the effects of shortened work hours on nurses at a retirement house in February.
The trial is followed by one done in health centres involving medical workers.
The results were highly encouraging. The quality of services dramatically improved and customer complaints reduced.
In fact, a Toyota service centre in Gothenburg, Sweden, that have been practicing the system since 13 years ago found that it increased the productivity of its mechanics and the quality of their workmanship.
HAPPY WORKERS, HIGHER PRODUCTIVITY
Six-hour workdays make workers more focused and result-oriented, thus driving them to produce more work in a shorter amount of time.
To ensure workers optimise their time, Sweden bans social media usage during the six hours. Meetings are kept short and to the point. There is no going off topic, dwelling unnecessarily on an issue or chatting and eating.
If such a system is to be implemented in Malaysia, ensure that there would no longer be morning or evening tea breaks. There should also be no one skiving off during work hours, lest the privilege be revoked from them.
Shorter work hours would undeniably make workers happier as they would still have some of their best time and energy to give to their family. They would also have time for personal enrichment activities such as sports and recreation, learning new things and getting involved with social work.
Besides that, society would also be much healthier. This is proven by science through a study conducted by the University College London which showed that those who worked over 55 hours a week increased their chances of getting a heart attack by 33 per cent, compared to those who work only 35-40 hours a week.
(The study covers 25 sub-studies and involved 600,000 respondents from Europe, the U.S. and Australia).
The bottom line is that if employers want productivity, lower operational cost and lower health care claims, they should consider implementing shorter work hours.
The time has come for government and private employers to not only consider but seriously study the implementation of the system in Malaysia.
In addition to six-hour workdays, flexible working hours and the option of working from home should also be extended to all staff and encouraged.
I think the country stand to save millions of Ringgit on remedial measures and campaigns to promote healthier lifestyles and curb social ills.
All we need to do is allow our people to spend just a little more time with their families, communities and themselves.
(This commentary is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect BERNAMA’s stand or views on the matter).