Globally, longer working hours are becoming more typical and accepted, but what is the cost? A study of South Korean workers examined the role of long working hours and low salaries in public sector employees’ well-being characteristics, such as job satisfaction and life satisfaction. Study results found that long working hours were not related to employee wellness, while salary was found to be related to wellbeing, with those on higher salaries displaying greater well-being.
Key Topics: Job satisfaction; Well-being; Low salary; Long working hours
Title of Reviewed Article: Public Employees Well-Being When Having Long Working Hours and Low-Salary Working Conditions.
Researchers: Geunpil Ryu (Posco Group University)
Publication: Public Personnel Management, 2016, Vol. 45 No. 1, pp. 70-89.
Setting the Scene
Prior research has indicated that long working hours have various negative implications for employees, such as reduced well-being (Siegrist, 1996), depression, work-family conflict (Major, Klein, & Ehrhart, 2002), and low quality of life (Lee et al., 2013). When employees feel over burdened with work demands they can feel burnt out, leading to negative health consequences, as well as reduced job and life satisfaction (Edwards, 2008). On the other hand, employees with high wellbeing demonstrate greater levels of job performance and engagement (Wright & Cropanzano, 2000).
Salary is often perceived by employees as an indication of how the company values them (e.g. Gardner, Van Dyne, & Pierce, 2004), and when employees are not compensated in accordance with their achievements they can experience a sense of loss (Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001), which can potentially lead to reduced job and life satisfaction. Having a lower salary has also been found to have further negative implications for employees, with models such as the effort–reward imbalance (ERI) model for example indicating that an imbalance between effort and reward leads to reduced employee health and well-being, and increased stress (Siegrist, 1996).
Much of the research on employee wellbeing has been conducted in Western countries, which has limited the generalizability of results as the relationship between wellbeing and work factors, such as working hours have been shown to differ across countries (Spector et al., 2004). To provide greater insight into well-being under lower salary and longer working hours conditions, this current study focuses on public sector employees in South Korea. The researchers outline a number of research questions:
Hypothesis 1a-c - Having longer working hours negatively affects employees’ (a) job satisfaction, (b) life satisfaction, and (c) self-rated health.
Hypothesis 2a-c - Having a lower salary negatively affects employees’ (a) job satisfaction, (b) life satisfaction, and (c) self-rated health.
Hypothesis 3a-c - Having a lower salary and longer working hours jointly and negatively affects employees’ (a) job satisfaction, (b) life satisfaction, and (c) self-rated health.
How the research was conducted
This study, which was South Korean focused, used data primarily from the Korea Labor & Income Panel Study (KLIPS) dataset, which includes various employee related information.
From the KLIPS, 186 public employees were chosen for analysis over 6 years from the period 1998 – 2008.
Data was collected in relation to working hours, overtime working hours, salary, job satisfaction, life satisfaction, self-rated health, as well as demographical information such as gender, age, and educational achievements.
Well-being was assessed using the combined analysis of job satisfaction, life satisfaction, and self-rated health.
Key Research Findings
Participants had an average working week of 47.41 working hours, with a monthly salary of approximately 2,745,000 Korean Won (~US$2,400).
Hypothesis 1 posited that longer working hours would be negatively related to well-being, however the results did not support this prediction. Results found well-being to be unrelated to job satisfaction and self-rated health, while longer working hours were found to be positively related to life satisfaction.
Support was found for Hypothesis 2, which predicted that those with higher salaries would have greater reported well-being. Having a higher salary was found to be positively related to job satisfaction and life satisfaction, but negatively associated to self-rated health.
Results found limited support for Hypothesis 3, which predicted that combined lower salary and longer working hours would negatively impact employees’ wellness.
The finding that longer working hours were not related to employees’ well-being is an interesting one. This is inconsistent with the researchers’ expectations and prior research which indicated that long working hours were negatively related with well-being (Lee et al., 2013). The researchers cited a number of possible reasons for this lack of support for Hypothesis 1. They suggest that the possibility of reverse causality between well-being and working hours as those who are satisfied with their job and life may be more inclined to work longer hours. Additionally, there is some evidence to suggest that public sector employees, who have high motivation towards public service work, place less importance on working hours than private sector employees (Houston, 2000).
As the researchers had expected, higher salaries resulted in greater well-being. This support found for Hypothesis 2 is also consistent with prior research (Rantakeisu & Jönsson, 2003).
Hypothesis 3 wasn’t fully supported. While the combined effected of long working hours and low salary related to lower self-rated health, there was no effect to job and life satisfaction found, which suggests that working conditions are more related to health than individual satisfaction types.
Organizational and Reward Implications
This study gives valuable insights into how employee well-being might be enhanced. The results found that employees with the lowest salaries and longest working hours reported the lowest levels of health, suggesting this is a particularly ‘at risk’ group which companies should monitor more closely for signs of reduced well-being. More generally, companies should endeavour to provide interventions and support, where necessary to increase well-being, including the review of the appropriateness of salary levels and long working hours.
This study adds to the research on wellbeing and how it relates to salary and working hours, and gives particular insight into these factors from an Eastern cultural perspective. Caution in generalizing the results should be observed however, given that the population examined was isolated to the South Korean public sector, and further validation of these results would benefit from examination of these relationships across a broader and bigger population.
Source Article: Ryu, G. (2016). Public Employees Well-Being When Having Long Working Hours and Low-Salary Working Conditions. Public Personnel Management, 45(1), 70-89.
Published by: Sage Publishing
For further details and access to the full journal article Click Here (subscription or payment may be required).
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