For the first time in 30 years, productivity is receding in the U.S. with GDP per hour projected to drop by 0.2 percent this year. The rest of the wealthy world is doing little better (+0.3 percent in the Eurozone and +0.4 percent in Japan). And even emerging markets aren’t immune from this receding trend (productivity growth almost halved in China, from 7 percent in 2013 to 3.6 percent today). When change and innovation seem to be accelerating everywhere, declining productivity is a real puzzle.
Even accounting for measurement problems, the productivity performance is dismal. It explains in part the feeble or non-existent growth in real wages and living standards. If it endures, the endgame of the productivity crisis could be the breakdown of the democratic order.
There is an interesting and intriguing wellness twist to this story. In many societies around the world, working hard (too hard?) is considered a virtue and is therefore praised and valued. In theory, working hard should lead to greater productivity, but research in psychology and medicine show that the contrary may well be the case.
Most often, workaholism – a condition defined as “being overly concerned about work, driven by an uncontrollable work motivation, and investing so much time and effort to work that it impairs other important life areas” – forces people to spend excess hours trying to catch up on work and may, in the end, be simply counterproductive. A recent paper links workaholism to a myriad of other psychiatric disorders, suggesting that working too hard (i.e. in a compulsive manner) is not only bad for wellness, but also for productivity.