It has been said that we have too many public holidays in Trinidad and Tobago. This is not a new topic for us, every now and then a letter to a newspaper editor would criticize the many public holidays we enjoy and how they cause a dip in our economic productivity and ultimately a dip in our general competitiveness. As a result, some people think limiting the number of official holidays can improve our economic competitiveness. Even some members in the business chambers reason that too much holidays are the main deterrent for foreign investors who prefer to place their factories in countries with fewer holidays. However, we could be barking up the wrong tree when it comes to productivity.
Is the problem really Too Many Public Holidays?
I must state that the effect of holidays on productivity is not conclusive. For instance, even though the US is the most competitive country in the world with the fewest holidays and time off given to employees; it remains that Europe gives America a close run for its money with more public holidays and paid leave. Data shows that Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg have outperform the US based on Gross domestic product per hours worked each year.
Also, countries that think the direction of less holidays may find an unexpected increase in workers being stress out, overworked, and an even greater increase in occupational accidents and diseases as productivity increases. This could mean a greater burden on the Health sector and a decrease quality of life (both in the family and workplace). In Japan, a high productivity comes at a price. Labour surveys (starting as early as in 1982, 1987 and 1992) in Japan indicated that workers complained of physical and mental fatigue due to their unusual work demands. 57% complained of strong anxieties or stress concerning their job or working life. The Japanese also found a causal relationship between overwork and sudden death. They called it Karoshi and it is becoming a social problem in Japan. Now many families who have lost a relative from Karoshi are seeking compensation for their loss. Businesses could be up for an additional type of operating cost - compensation to employees' families for occupational diseases caused at the workplace.
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Work Life Balance
A lesson from this is obvious. Businesses have a social responsibility and it cannot be denied. Part of this responsibility is ensuring that their employees get a work life balance. Getting a work life balance for workers should be everyone's priority and our need to decrease or even limit public holidays could be short-sighted. Yes, there has been stagnant
productivity and poor growth in Latin America and the Caribbean, even as the World Happiness index indicates most Latin American countries including Trinidad and Tobago as being the happiest places in the Americas, but productivity can be improved in developing countries through the means of work life balance without having to sacrifice "happiness".
Abe Thebyane (Nedbank Group Executive of Human Resource) agrees that the management of productivity has little to do with the relationship between public holidays and national productivity. He also believes there are other business issues that could be more damaging to productivity, such as employee absenteeism, workers' health or motivation levels, which could cost a country billions of dollars a year. However, these issues are a lot tricky to manage and predict. For this reason Sachs suggests that GDP is a poor measure of a country's well-being and a more appropriate measure should integrate economic, social and environmental dimensions in a balanced manner.
There are some countries that agree with Sachs. They seek to satisfy the overall well-being of it nationals while still improving productivity. In a tiny state of Bhutan, the government prefer to focus on gross happiness rather than GDP to determine their productivity since 1971. Another country that is concerned equally with the social well-being is Denmark. So the idea suggested by Sachs is not an uncharted course. Their examples and success is obvious to date.
Thus, we can say "money" is not everything. And if we are determined to improve productivity in our country we
would need to consider the needs of the employees - not just their physical or economical needs, but see employee as individuals being part of their own family and having social responsibilities of their own. This means productivity can be achieved with a work-life balance where work and life experiences go hand in hand. A balance is placed between an individual's career and his or her needs/ life experiences. Thus, individuals are not forced to put aside their health, needs for pleasure and leisure, spirituality and family. Productivity can be greatly improved when the entire well-being of employees are considered.
Thinking that less holidays is best for productivity, without truly considering the best way to improve productivity could mean a further loss of family values, individual well-being and decreased health. We are already experiencing many of these things, so we should thread carefully when prioritizing our needs. The choice is ours. We can also take the holidays as a blessing: one way of satisfying one aspect of our needs and use it to help improve productivity. In the end we will better be able to create a healthier and a better working economy for all.
Helliwell, J.; Layard, R. & Sachs, J. (Eds). World Happiness Report: Retrieved from http://www.earth.columbia.edu/sitefiles/file/Sachs%20Writing/2012/World%20Happiness%20Report.pdf
Haratani, Takashi. 2011. in Mood and Affect. Karoshi: Death from overwork. Encyclopedia of Occupational Health and Safety, International Labor Organisation, Geneva. Retrieved from http://www.ilo.org/oshenc/part-i/mental-health/mood-and-affect/item/270-karoshi-death-from-overwork
Scott, M. 2009. Europe versus America: Do longer holidays translate to greater productivity? Retrieved From
Thebyane, A. 2013. To manage productivity, business must look beyond public holidays. Retrieve from http://finweek.com/2013/09/04/to-manage-productivity-business-must-look-beyond-public-holidays/