Stop Working More Than Forty Hours a Week
In 1930 economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that in a hundred years, the typical working week would only be fifteen hours. That same year, when working forty hours a week was already the norm, Kellogg’s adopted six-hour workdays. The move was an “instant success,” providing work for more people during the Great Depression and allowing employees to enjoy more leisure time.
This model is in stark contrast to the average American work schedule today. The opposite of Keynes’s prediction is coming true, with many businesses mandating or encouraging their employees to work fifty—or sixty, seventy, or more—hours per week.
But as the trend in hours has reversed so has the way we think about overwork. An article in The New Yorker says that often, rules aren’t keeping employees working so hard—it’s our cultural system. Putting in extreme overtime has become not only expected and accepted, but even a point of pride for some, demonstrating their commitment to their jobs and giving them a sense of self-worth:
Thirty years ago, the best-paid workers in the U.S. were much less likely to work long days than low-paid workers were. By 2006, the best paid were twice as likely to work long hours as the poorly paid, and the trend seems to be accelerating. . . . Overwork has become a credential of prosperity.
The bad news about this “cult of overwork,” as The New Yorker called it, is that working long hours is not only detrimental to employees’ health and happiness but also bad for the workplace. After forty hours a week, efficiency and quality drop. Among manual laborers, mistakes and safety mishaps increase; for knowledge workers, exhaustion and depression make performing at a high cognitive level more difficult. The result: All that work accomplished in overtime likely will be substandard and will have to be scrapped or redone.
It turns out a shorter workday is particularly beneficial for knowledge workers—people in professional or creative jobs—who can work productively for about six hours a day, compared to the eight hours industrial laborers can manage, according to Salon. Humans operate on a cyclical basis, which means our energy and motivation fluctuate in waves. Cognitive workers tend to be more focused in the late morning, with an energy boost in the late afternoon, when lung efficiency peaks.
Selling your employer on a six-hour workday may be difficult, but it’s worth it to yourself to at least aim to stop consistently working more than forty hours a week. You can start by not being ashamed of going home at 5:30 every day to be with your friends and family. Don’t sacrifice your health, happiness, or sanity for those longer hours. After all, the overtime you’re doing probably isn’t your best work anyway.
Are longer hours encouraged in your workplace? Do you think they should be? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.