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Working smarter not harder; John Revill examines how different people find workable solutions to life.

Do flexible hours mean the death of the nine to five - spelling the end for rush hour?

He might be fighting a gruelling battle to win one of the world's toughest jobs, but George W Bush still takes a laid-back approach to work.

The US presidential candidate typically turns up to begin campaigning at around 9am, takes a two-hour lunch break and knocks off about 5pm.

A survey, published in The New York Times, which chronicled Bush's work schedules, was followed by the revelation that the Texan governor dislikes meetings which last more than ten minutes, spends little time on policy and devotes most of his short working day to photo opportunities and ceremonial occasions.

On top of this, Paul Burka - a Texan journalist who knows Bush well - disclosed in the Texas Monthly that Bush usually takes private time from 11.40am until 1.30pm and then returns to his office where 'he might play a little video golf or computer solitaire until three'.

Meanwhile Bush's rival for the presidency, Al Gore, has promised to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week if he captures the White House on November 7.

The out-going occupant, Bill Clinton is known to be a President who is prepared to fly anywhere, anytime to broker a peace deal.

And yet, this has been the closest presidential race in four decades and Bush may even have the edge as the battle enters its final stages.

Bush's aides argue that their candidate's approach to work is in fact more efficient because he crams more into his working hours by delegating, focusing and avoiding details.

Could Bush really have a more productive attitude to work than his opponent Gore?

The number of working hours notched up by famous world leaders, in recent times, has varied widely.

Former British Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher, was famous for working like a navvy. She burned the midnight oil, slept for four hours a night and kept up that pace for almost 12 years.

Other people have taken a more lackadaisical approach to power. Harold Wilson was believed to be a frequent catnapper during his eight years at Number 10 and once said: 'I believe the greatest asset a head of state can have is the ability to have a good night's sleep.'

For professionals in the Midlands long hours are becoming the norm with the advent of 24-hour culture and increased job insecurity.

Sue Battle, chief executive for the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says: 'For everybody there has to be a balance, and I would be quite suspicious of somebody who claims they are prepared to work 24 hours per day.

'The hours spent at work are not important, it is what is achieved during those hours that counts. There has to be a balance between working and relaxing time to recharge the batteries.'

Carolyn Hannah, regional director for the CBI, says it is important for workers to have time away from work.

She says: 'Most sensible managers believe it is vital for their staff to have quality time at home. From time to time people may have to work longer when there is a particular event like the Budget, but not always.'

On average most managers work 60 to 70 hours per week, well in advance of the Government's working time directive which states people should not work longer than 48 hours per week.

Contrary to popular belief, hours are long in the academic world, with the average lecturer working for 58 hours per week. Among professors the figure rises to 62 hours of teaching and research.

Prof Maxwell Irvine, vice chancellor of Birmingham University, puts in 69 hours per week at meetings and engagements every week.

He arrives at work at 8.30am and seldom leaves before 6.30pm, and on average will attend three evening events and a least one weekend function, which could last for three hours each.

Prof Irvine, aged 61, says: 'There are a lot of evening and weekend occasions which I have to attend, which may seem frivolous, but a lot of business is conducted in a social context. All the dinners can be a real killer and I try not to make lunch appointments to preserve my health.'

Long hours also seem to be the norm for MPs, with Gisela Stuart (Lab Birmingham Edgbaston) putting in 13-hour days when Parliament is sitting.

She says: 'When I am at Westminster I get to work at about 9am and am lucky to be back home for Newsnight at 10.30pm. On a Friday and a Saturday I am back working in my constituency.

'I have never tried to add up all the hours I do, but I know being an MP is not a job where you clock off at 5pm and, even when I am not on duty, I am always on the end of a phone.'

Mark Britnell, aged 34, acting chief executive for University Hospital Birmingham NHS Trust puts in between 60 and 70 hours a week, and most days has to grab a prawn sandwich for his lunch and eat it on the run.

He says: 'It sounds corny, but I really love my job and I don't see it as a chore. I am really interested in health care and I don't really notice the hours. Sometimes though, if you have had a long day with difficult decisions you don't look forward to an evening meeting.

'This is a massive trust and I get a lot of help from managers but I wouldn't work the hours if I thought I didn't need to.'

Nick Isles, a spokesman for the Chartered Institute of Personnel And Development, believes Bush will have to up his working hours if he is elected to the White House.

But neither does he subscribe to the work all day, every day approach of Gore either.

He says: 'It is not particularly healthy if someone is at their desk all the time. They are not necessarily going to make considered decisions.

'Research has shown that people who work excessively long hours are, by their own admission, more prone to make mistakes.'

Isles believes people, in all lines of work, should try to tread the middle ground between the Bush and Gore regimes and says: 'What we are looking for is balance between home and work life that means when you are at work you will be as productive as possible. That will vary from person to person.'

But Prof Cary Cooper, a professor of organisational psychology and health at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), thinks the Bush approach to work might be quite healthy.

He believes there is plenty of evidence to show that those who consistently work more than 45 hours a week are doing themselves harm.

As an example he holds up the annual Quality Of Working Life Survey, which he produces each year, and says of the latest, 1999, results:

'We looked at a cohort of 5,000 managers in Britain. Some ten per cent of them were working 61-hour weeks or more, a third were doing 51 hours or more and 82 per cent were working 41 hours or more.

'When they were asked what impact it had on them, 68 per cent said it was damaging their productivity and 71 per cent said it was damaging their health.

'The most worrying part was that 79 per cent said it was damaging their relationship with their spouse or partner and 86 per cent said it was damaging their relationship with their children.'

Cooper reckons world leaders will suffer the same effects if they work too hard - although he points out that the present Prime Minister Tony Blair has at least managed to achieve some balance by taking longish holidays with his family.

In general, he thinks, politicians who work shorter hours will make less blunders and look less harassed and tired on television.

Amazing as it seems, late starts, early finishes and long lunches may even help Bush become President.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 30, 2000
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