Academic journal article Indian Journal of Industrial Relations

Win-Win Human Resource Strategies for Working-Hours Reduction

Academic journal article Indian Journal of Industrial Relations

Win-Win Human Resource Strategies for Working-Hours Reduction

Article excerpt


This study aims to distinguish the working-hours reduction strategies that enable firms to improve their productivity after the reduction as it regards an activity raising labour costs. Working-hours reduction as a firm-level and national-level labour policy remains dominant in labour affair officers' minds because of its potential effect on the additional non-work time and employment creation in the past 30 years. Firms in countries such as France (35-hour work week since 2002), Japan (40-hour work week since 1988), China (40-hour work week since 1995), Taiwan (84-hours over 2 weeks since 2000), and South Korea (40-hour work week since 2003) have been forced to face a legislative-passed working-hours reduction as well as internal requests to maintain labour productivity and control costs.

Numerous studies have shown that working-hours reduction is a tough yet beneficial labour policy to both the employees and employers (Bosch & Lehnorff 2001, Kramar 1993, MacInnes 2005, Perry-Smith & Blum 2000, Thornthwaite 2004, Strachan & Burgess 1998, Solomon 1994). However, few studies have presented how firms meet the challenge of working-hours reduction (Pocock 2005, White et al. 2003). Most of the empirical studies cited above focus quantitatively on the effects of the working-hours reduction on employability and productivity, instead of the mechanism for policy accomplishment. The two most used strategies that firms adopt to reduce working hours are automation and flexibility of the working-hours (Allan et al. 1998, Bosch & Lehnorff 2001, Elbring et al. 1975, Pierce & Newstrom 1983).

Okubayashi (1990) indicated a perspective that the reduction of working hours should be accomplished through overall changes in either the production system or the superior human resource management (HRM) system. The present study illustrates the working-hours reduction strategies from the academic perspective of HRM. Such a viewpoint on this subject is rare and might help to fill the gap between the practitioners and academia.

The present qualitative study attempts to contribute to the literature from three points of view. First, it identifies a business dilemma faced by firms in which the working-hours reduction needs to be dealt with in nearly a trade-off nature. Second, through a case study context we demonstrate a comprehensive framework of compensative strategies that contain three types of work change organization improving strategies and an income security strategy. The qualitative method is chosen in order to integrate the wisdom from practitioners and academic researchers and to demonstrate the findings in a field study environment. Finally, the present study echoes Bosch and Lehnorff's (2001) valuable foresight in to the positive productivity effect of working-hours reduction through three empirical case analyses. Bosch and Lehnorff (2001) primarily researched working-hours reduction from the perspective of economics. The present study not only echoes their findings that successful working-hours reduction strategies should empathize on work organization change and wage negotiation, but also deepens their explanation from the perspective of business research. Such a deductive effort allows us to apply Bosch and Lehnorff's (2001) compensative framework from European countries to the context of the Asian country of Japan.

Nature of Government-Led Working-Hours Reduction

We can distinguish the nature of working-hours reduction into three types: the trade-union-led reduction, the government-led reduction, and the company-led reduction. A typical trade-union-led working-hours reduction goal is the 40hour work week of Germany's engineering and printing industries in 1985. The 35-hour work week in France in 2000 and the 40-hour work week in Japan in 1988 are typical patterns of governmentled working-hours reduction.

Different working hours reduction initiatives bring in different goals. …

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