Putting in fewer hours at the office certainly sounds appealing. But it may not lead to more overall happiness, according to a study by Robert Rudolf of Korea University in Seoul, reported in The Journal of Happiness Studies.
Julie Beck at The Atlantic reported on the study, which examined the Korean Five-Day Working Reform, a policy South Korea instituted to reduce working hours from 44 to 40 hours a week and remove Saturdays from the workweek. The policy was instituted in 2004, and since then the number of workers working more than 60 hours a week had decreased. Most workers were putting in between 41 and 50 hours.
But when Rudolf examined data from the annual Korean Labor and Income Panel Study for 1998 to 2008 on the job satisfaction and life satisfaction of workers and their families, he found overall happiness showed no marked improvement. According to Beck, "The Korean Five-Day Working Reform resulted in greater working hours satisfaction for both men and women, meaning they felt better about the number of hours they were working. But they weren’t actually more satisfied with their lives or their jobs in general."
According to The Telegraph, the study also found that working wives and mothers were generally happier with reforms than their male partners. This is because "women face higher work-family role conflicts within the traditional Korean society, and thus suffer more from long overtime hours." But even among women, there was no significant impact on job and life satisfaction.
Rudolf suggested possible reasons for the absence of an increase in overall satisfaction were that employers may require employees to work more intensely while at the office and employers may give fewer paid holidays to compensate for the lost time.
Thus, the idea that fewer hours lead to gains in happiness may simply be false, or it is possible that any gains in happiness from working fewer hours might be replaced by new forms of stress. "If the latter holds true," said Rudolf, "it would be naïve to believe that work time reductions alone can increase worker well-being."