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A Chinese Hotel Manager’s Response to Shorter-Workweek Legislation

The National Congress of the People’s Republic of China passed a law in 1995 lowering the workweek of many people from 48 hours to 40 hours. Workers received an extra day off on Saturdays. How did business managers react to that change?

A hotel manager reports that the new law produced initial stress; but it was a law and had to be followed. She reacted to the new conditions in two ways:

(1) She rearranged the work schedules of hotel workers to use their time more efficiently. The restaurant manager, for instance, requested hiring three additional employees. She, the general manager, proposed instead that the existing employees begin and end work at different times. While the employees individually worked fewer hours each week, the hotel operation was fully covered.

(2) She arranged for students at a nearby school to be “trained” at the hotel. While this arrangement did put some new responsibilities upon supervisors, it also provided extra labor for the more menial functions such as peeling vegetables in the restaurant. The hotel paid these student workers but received reimbursement in the same amount from the school.

In the end, this hotel manager was able to maintain the previous level of operation without hiring any additional workers. For that she received a commendation from her boss. Her creative adjustment to the hours reduction preserved company profits.

Another hotel in the same city did, however, hire additional employees.

The new two-day weekends were quite popular with hotel employees even though they had to work harder during their working hours. The manager’s own work schedule was not affected by this change.

THE BOTTOM LINE: In this case, the decline in average work time was offset by a gain in labor productivity except for a small part related to new employment of the student workers. There was no change in “output” - the overall service delivered by the hotel.

Another interesting fact: That Chinese hotel manager later became my wife.

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