Do you work too much?

by Nick on April 24, 2012

I’m back!  Did you miss me?

I was away for a while travelling to visit family and for my daughter’s Christening.  It was a really fun event full of music, food, beer, friends and family!  Aside from a few music issues, it went off without a hitch.  Music issues: I get really opinionated when it comes to “appropriate” music for events like this, so I nixed a request for “I’m sexy and I know it” because I didn’t think it was appropriate for a 7 month old girl’s Christening… I wonder if I’m going to be “that dad” when she’s a teenager… (I don’t care, I just wonder, haha!)

Aaaaanyhow, I usually post in the mornings but wanted to get some thoughts out tonight while I’m waiting to turn something around for work!  And can you get more appropriate than a post at 8pm while working wondering aloud whether I work too much 🙂  I didn’t think so.

I was influenced by an article I bumped into over at Salon that suggested that long hours at work kill profits, productivity and employees!  Full disclosure:  I have no idea what Salon is (or how I found the article, which has been in my drafts for a while) but found the article interesting, and wanted to discuss the “theme” of it.  My guess by the amount of tweets and likes the article has is that Salon is as commonly known as “Lady Gaga,” who I also couldn’t identify in a line-up of one…

I’m not really concerned with the specifics although I did learn a few things.  Here are some of the highlights (with the more interesting to me in bold):

  • I thought the 40 hour work week was more tradition and negotiation, but I was surprised to find out that “business leaders ultimately went along with it because their own data convinced them this was a solid, hard-nosed business decision.”  (Not surprised about the data, just that it was a reason for the standard.)
  • Studies showed over and over that industrial workers have 8 good, reliable hours a day in them and that you get the same production if you work people 8 or 10 hours.  (Not surprised.)
  • For most businesses, the potential human, capital, legal and financial risks of going over 40 hours a week simply weren’t worth taking.  By World War II, the consensus was clear and widespread: even (or especially!) under the extreme demands of wartime, overworking employees is counterproductive and dangerous, and no competent workplace should ever attempt to push its people beyond that limit.  (Pretty interesting for sure.  I wonder if my “bosses” agree…).
  • You could get short-term gains by going to 60- or 70-hour weeks very briefly — for example, pushing extra hard for a few weeks to meet a critical production deadline, but you only gain 25-30 percent more work in 50 percent more time.  (I’ve been “in the zone” for a few weeks at a time working around the clock and was pretty effective… or at least I think).
  • Once the crisis has passed and that 60-hour-a-week team gets to go back to its regular 40, it can take several more weeks before the burnout begins to lift enough for them to resume their typical productivity level. So, for a while, you’ll get significantly less than a full 40 out of them.  (I’ve experienced a little bit of this effect for sure)
  • Knowledge workers actually have fewer good hours in a day than manual laborers do — on average, about six hours, as opposed to eight.  (Hmmm… I’d like to think I have more than 6…)
  • Knowledge workers are exquisitely sensitive to even minor sleep loss.  (Yawn… and Amen!)
  • We lost the 40-hour week in part because of passionate scientists and technologists who refuse to stop working!  (Damn techies!)
  • And finally: the bottom line is: For the good of our bodies, our families, our communities, the profitability of American companies, and the future of the country, this insanity has to stop. Working long days and weeks has been incontrovertibly proven to be the stupidest, most expensive way there is to get work done. Our bosses are depleting resources from of the human capital pool without replenishing them. They are taking time, energy and resources that rightfully belong to us, and are part of our national common wealth.

OK now I need to get back to work!  Haha (half kidding…).  I haven’t confirmed any of this, but it was really cool to read the story of how the 40-hour work week evolved (and devolved…) and that I’m not alone in wondering if and when it’s going to trend back to 40.

What do you think?  Do you find yourself with an “overtime hangover” after working a ton?  How many quality work hours do you have in a day?  And how many hours do you typically work a week?  I’m definitely (and unfortunately) between 50 and 70 for the most part…

And, most importantly, any chance your “bosses” would go for a 40-hour work week cap?  Maybe they need to see some stats!

Until next time, put your credit card down and slowly step away from the mall!

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Image: David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Michelle April 24, 2012 at 11:15 pm

My poor husband! He works so, so hard and often doesn’t get as much sleep as he should because of our baby. She’s 9 months old and still doesn’t sleep through the night! Even if I’m up with her and he’s in bed, he’s not sleeping as soundly with our daughter wide awake in the house. I would feel even worse if it weren’t for the fact that she is her father’s daughter! Apparently, Jeff didn’t sleep through the night until he was 2!!! And his mom? Just let him scream all night. I.Could.Never. I pick her up and feed her and rock her and sing to her and even play with her if pushing sleep seems futile. Anyway…so yes, I know a guy completely sleep-deprived and over-worked. I know him very well! I also know that he just works that much harder and drinks more coffee on those days.

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Nick April 26, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Wow! I have an almost 8-month old girl that doesn’t sleep very well. I often sleep in our son’s room (who sleeps well) if I “need” a good night sleep. But that puts a lot of sleepless stress on Wifey McGee for sure.

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Thad P @ thadthoughts.com April 24, 2012 at 11:53 pm

Interesting information. As a knowledge worker I would hope I had more than 6 good hours a day, but I tend to believe it. You can be there, but focused concentration can be draining. Getting up and walking around a bit is good for the body and the mind.

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Nick April 26, 2012 at 6:28 pm

Me too, Thad! I do often get home and just feel like my brain is mush. And you’re spot on about walking around a bit at work, too!

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Modest Money April 25, 2012 at 1:41 am

This is interesting. I hadn’t really considered why the 40 hour work week is the norm. In my case I have to admit that I’ve never worked at a job that ever worked me more than 40 hours per week. There was just never the need for any overtime because in my industry there are almost never deadlines, unless you happen to do contract type work for clients. I wonder how this all affects someone who does work outside of their regular job. Does that mean that all their hours working at home are bound to be less productive than they could’ve been? I’m going to be facing this soon as I jump back into the work force while managing my blog. I’ll have to keep an eye on this to see what effect I see.

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Nick April 26, 2012 at 6:28 pm

That’s pretty cool Jeremy. I suspect there’s somewhat of a change of scenery boost or if you’re doing something you love there’s a bit more energy involved. Let me know how it works for you though.

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Kris @ BalancingMoneyandLife April 25, 2012 at 5:36 am

I’d believe these stats! I know that even though I technically work only 40 hours per week, because I work shift work and can wind up working 7 days out of 8, or 9 out of 11, I can be absolutely exhausted by the time I get to the end of a long stretch, and my decision making and work effort are definitely weaker at the end.

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Nick April 26, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Wow – that’s a lot of days in a row. I wish I could find a way to only “see” people who are in the first 8 hours of a day or 40 hours in a week. Like can I ask that my CPA only do my taxes between 9-5 and if they work more than that per day I only want part of the first 40 hours that week? 🙂

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Jordann @ My Alternate Life April 25, 2012 at 8:30 am

My work week is 42.5 hours, but in school 50-60 was the norm. I could definitely chart my productivity throughout the day and noticed a decline as the day wore on. The lack of sleep thing is bang on, if I have a bad day, I usually schedule some sort of mindless task for the day so I can still be productive while not having to use my brain too much.

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Nick April 26, 2012 at 6:25 pm

Ahhh… school definitely adds quite a bit. Apparently the 5-hour energy people were onto something… not sure if the product works (or is safe) but I wish I thought of it first (assuming it works and is safe, of course). I’m definitely with you on the lack of sleep too. I’m definitely sluggish and a bit cranky when I’m down to a few hours a night…

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Daisy @ Add Vodka April 25, 2012 at 9:05 am

I don’t work overtime, we’re not allowed to, but I definitely don’t have 8 hours a day of pure productivity; I ebb and wane but if I have lot to get done, I’ll definitely get it done. It’s good that I can’t work overtime because I don’t want to, haha!

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Nick April 26, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Very nice. When I worked at places that paid overtime, it was not allowed for the most part (but primarily to save the $$ for time and a half pay).

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Kooz April 25, 2012 at 10:26 am

I love the idea of a shorter work week, but I don’t see any realistic way to overcome the status quo. Even if this research holds up, we are big into science denial in this country. Half the people here deny evolution outright! It’s shocking. People get into ruts very easily without knowing it, and getting them to realize their own reality and acknowledge their mistakes and lack of knowledge is always a huge uphill battle, so I doubt managers will come around in our lifetimes.

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Nick April 26, 2012 at 6:13 pm

I hear ya Kooz. What’s evolution? 😉

I also think the whole “the world is coming to an end” fear is leading to people working as much as “needed” to make the “bosses” happy…

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I Am 1 Percent April 25, 2012 at 11:07 am

I used to work a lot, but have intentially closed my laptop at 5pm and won’t respond to e-mails until the following morning. My family is way more important to me than my career. Granted, there are days where I will work in the evening, but for the most part, I am spending time with the family in the evenings.

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Nick April 26, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Very nice. This week’s a terrible week for me to be talking about this as I’m working around the clock, but for the most part I get to spend at least a couple of hours a day and the weekends with the fam!

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BeatingTheIndex April 25, 2012 at 11:18 am

I believe Europe is down to 35 hour work weeks! I agree that going above 40hrs hits productivity but it’s not that obvious. Here’s an example, in software, a study confirmed that having 2 monitors per developers makes him more efficient, not a neasy pill to swallow for a company who has to buy a bunch of new monitors!

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Nick April 26, 2012 at 6:11 pm

Wow – 35 hours would be nice. I sometimes wonder whether taking a 40-hour a week gig would feel like early semi-retirement…

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Sean @ One Smart Dollar April 25, 2012 at 6:47 pm

I know I work to much but it’s almost a given when you work for yourself. I just make sure that I still save “me” time.

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Nick April 26, 2012 at 6:10 pm

But don’t you also make up the rules!?!?! I know though… my parents have worked for themselves for the last 36 years putting in at least 70 hours per week. Crazy, crazy life. But it put 2 kids through college! (my two sisters…)

🙂

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eemusings April 25, 2012 at 7:09 pm

You don’t know what Salon.com is?!

Long hours are NOT conducive to productivity IMO. I’m no stranger to long days – I’ve covered lots of breaking news stories, and worked some double shifts, and for me the hunger and fatigue that sets in around 9-10 hours is incredible.

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Nick April 26, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Haha, not until I googled it after the post… I’m not much of a politics or mainstream media guy (except occasional CNBC or if something crazy is going on like the Bin Laden thing or a Presidential address) – mostly because I work too much though! So I cut out the least important stuff like the “sky is falling” news channels (except their personal finance sections online…). 🙂 I know… I live a strange existence, haha.

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Well Heeled Blog April 26, 2012 at 1:11 am

I’ve worked for 100+ hour weeks before (trust me, I counted). Many of those hours were spent half-asleep – what normally takes me 30 minutes to fix would turn into an hour or two becauese I was so tired and sluggish. I’ve had coworkers who slept in their cars and go home for a shower and then head back straight to the office. Needless to say, that is not the kind of environment I am in now. Still, I’m not sure if the 40-hour week will ever come to fruition for certain occupations / roles. I think a 50-to-60 hour week would be sustainable over the long term.

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Nick April 26, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Wow! I’ve done a few 100 hour weeks but literally just a few (mostly when I was working multiple gigs but a couple over the last years). I got really sluggish after those and ended up taking a few days off. Only once did I sleep under my desk though (for an hour and a half). Very glad you got out of there!

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MoneySmartGuides April 26, 2012 at 12:47 pm

I read an article once (though I can’t find it now) about how most workers could work 30 hours a week and still get all of their work done. The reasons were that they just were efficient enough and those that were, had a bunch of downtime at work and had to be there because 40 hours is the norm.

I’m not sure how relevant that is today though with so many businesses laying off employees and expecting those that are still around to pick up the slack. For me personally, I only work 40 hours a week. I do have some downtime, but not much.

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Nick April 26, 2012 at 5:58 pm

There’s one infamous book at least that says you can get it all done in 4 hours! (pretty good book by the way)

Nice to see you working 40 hours though!

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Shawn April 27, 2012 at 12:42 pm

This is interesting information. I did not see any mention of entrepreneurs / business owners and how the hours affected them. I think that people that work for themselves are more productive hour for hour than employees, I also know that the majority put in long hours but does the additional hours result in diminishing productivity? Is this a function of increasing fatigue or decreasing motivation?

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Nick April 30, 2012 at 1:40 pm

I suspect doing something you’re really passionate about, as opposed to just working for a paycheck could help stretch the productivity period. I haven’t seen any info on that, but business owners certainly work way more than 8 hours a day or 40 days a week…

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MyMoneyDesign April 27, 2012 at 4:02 pm

It’s really unfortunate, but almost all of my clients assume you will simply work 24 hours a day / 7 days a week as needed for their projects. Especially with conference calls to foreign countries and travel, the lines between when work stops and personal time begins become very blurred. I definitely feel as though more than 40 hours is pushing it. The problem is that more and more people accept this as “normal”, and they become your competition for better positions, promotions, raises, etc.

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Nick April 30, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Yep – in my world, 40 hours a week is pretty much part time… I generally only work in 2 time zones (east and west coasts) so I haven’t been stuck on calls that flip 12 hours, which is good. But some of my coworkers do. That has to be pretty painful over a long period…

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Shilpan April 27, 2012 at 6:40 pm

I work between 70-80 hours to manage my regular work and my businesses. I’ve been used to this for last 12 years now.

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Nick April 30, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Wow. You’re a machine. My parents are in the same boat (but only w/ a business). I think I could do it if I had 2 separate gigs, but to do one for that many hours would drain me. I’d also want to transition out of the regular work more and into the businesses if I were running both….

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Michael Davis April 29, 2012 at 9:08 am

At first I thought the picture top of that post is mine! I work about 12 hours per day! Thanks for such a great post.

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Nick April 30, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Nope, just some actor….

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SB @ FPR April 29, 2012 at 3:40 pm

The problem arises when your boss sees a direct relationship between no. of hours spent and amount of work done. Unfortunately that is the case with me now.

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Nick April 30, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Isn’t it crazy. We’ve turned into commodities expected to be “100% on” 100% of the time, with the time being “when needed.” I think the last few years have also weakened the push back from the employees a bit. I hope and suspect the pendulum will slowly shift the other way soon…

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Richard May 6, 2012 at 12:03 pm

I read about the same study. I think that the optimal efficient work time is 38 hours a week. Beyond that, you have a few weeks of higher performance before you hit a burn out and then productivity drops off a cliff. It’s funny because we place so much emphasis on working more hours each week as opposed to working more efficiently.

I think that it’s much better for focus on accomplishing goals instead of just clocking a certain number of hours.

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Retail November 23, 2012 at 7:46 pm

I’m not going to lie, I only work 40 hours a week and I find it too much most of the time. I don’t know what I am doing wrong! There are lots of people who work WAY more than I do and they seem to be fine, but I can’t seem to get anything done at all. I always feel like all I ever do is eat,sleep and breathe work, but I don’t really when I step back and look. Is there anyone else who feels this way???

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Nick November 27, 2012 at 9:27 am

I think a lot of people feel the way you do. I suspect many of them feel that way because they either aren’t passionate about their gig or because other areas of their lives are dragging. If you’re doing something you really LOVE doing and are passionate about it gets easier (I have many passions, but I’ll take baseball for example. If my job involved the business of baseball I would imagine it would be much easier to work 70 hours per week than if my job were as a TV critic for Lifetime movies…). Also, if I skip the gym too much and get out of shape work weeks drain me more than when I am in shape – because I feel better about myself and have more energy generally. 🙂

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