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If we were ever asked, we would all have a difficult time determining the perfect number of working hours per week.
For most of us, our working hours are a combination of factors, including personal choice and the demands of our jobs. However, there is one important factor that you may not have thought about: how many hours do we actually need to work?
What is a Normal Workweek?
In most countries, the average working week is somewhere around 40 hours, mostly clocking in at 09:00 a.m. in the morning and wrapping the workday around 05:00 p.m. . In some countries, it's much less; in others, it can be more than 50 hours a week.
But do we really work for solid 40 hours or is that the amount of time we are present in the office? I'm guessing it's the second one.
It's no wonder that employees accomplish far less than the timetable suggests. This is due to the fact that the vast majority of us are unable to maintain our productivity levels for an entire eight-hour workday.
Studies Show What People Do in The Office
Vouchercloud polled 1,989 UK office workers as part of a study investigating the online habits and productivity of workers across the country. 'If you had to put a number on it, how much time do you think you spend productively working during work hours on a daily basis?' the study asked. The average response was '2 hours and 53 minutes’ of actual office productivity across all responders.
That's right, you're probably only productive for around three hours a day. The survey then looked at what people did instead of working:
- Checking social media
- Reading news websites
- Discussing out of work activities with colleagues
- Making hot drinks
- Smoking breaks
- Text/ Instant messaging
- Eating snacks
- Making food in the office
- Making calls to partner/ friends
- Searching for new jobs
This raises a slew of questions. Why do so many businesses insist on an eight-hour workday when employees can't be productive for the entire time? What are the dangers of forcing our brains to follow that schedule? And, really, how many hours should you be working per week?
The Origin of the Standard: 40 Hours Work Week
The current 8-hour workday, which is what most businesses and jobs conform to, was neither created in response to human behavior and needs nor was it based on the optimal number of hours a human can concentrate.
In fact, it was pioneered in the Industrial Revolution, when people had to work for 10-16 hours so that the factories could run 24/7. Yep! You’ve heard it right: What once was a dream has become a nightmare.
In 1817, Robert Owen advocated for shorter workdays with his slogan “Eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.” Nearly a century later, the eight-hour workday became the norm when Ford Motor Company changed its company policies and stunned the world by lowering it to eight hours while simultaneously doubling earnings in 1914. The end result was increased productivity.
However, it wasn't until the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which made the work week 44 hours long. Later, Congress further limited the workweek to 40 hours.
However, in the last few decades, many of us have experienced a surge in working hours. In fact, according to a report by the New York Times, “The average workweek for a salaried employee in the United States is now 47 hours, up from about 39 hours in 1980.”
Can We Still Benefit from the 40-Hour Work Week?
We are no longer living in the Industrial Revolution when an 8-hour shift was the norm. Thanks to the digital and information revolution, we now have tools that can make practically every type of production in almost any industry more efficient than it was previously.
Long story short, we get work done faster. The issue is not with the employee, but with the anachronistic need of working for 8 hours a day.
According to Malissa Clark, a psychologist at the University of Georgia who studies employee well-being and workaholism, concentrating on work for every minute of an eight-hour day is "impossible" for humans. We may spend more than eight hours at our desks, but we are not working for eight hours. That means we spend hundreds of hours a year, if not thousands, of our lives "playing pretend."
Parkinson’s Law suggests that “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” This saying has been proven accurate time and time again in a variety of businesses throughout the world. Arguing for a regular workweek of less than 40 hours feels almost heretical in the age of hustle culture. But, if eight hours isn't always what managers want from office workers—and it's certainly not what the majority of people do—what should we be doing instead?
The Risks of Overworking
Working too much can have negative consequences on your health, family life, and sanity. It's easy to think that you should work more hours because it will lead to a greater sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
But the truth is, working too much will only lead to more stress and burnout. Even when you're not at work, your mind can't rest because it's always thinking about work.
A shorter workweek, whether it's the same 40 hours compressed into four days or fewer hours overall, allows for a better balance between work and life and reduces the risks associated with overworking.
1. Decreased Productivity and Increased Errors
Maybe you're one of those folks who brag about working 70 hours a week. Maybe you're on the opposite end of the spectrum, dreaming of a brand new technique, 4 day work week. Whatever your work appetite, keep in mind that there's plenty of evidence that working more hours per week doesn't always correspond to increased productivity.
Employees that work too much lose efficiency, which is one of the most serious consequences of overworking. Even if they are putting in many hours, the quality of their work may start to degrade over time.
Try adjusting your working schedules and reducing your working hours in the workweek so that you can enhance your productivity and the overall quality of the work.
2. Overworking Slows Down Our Ability to Work
This may be the reason why Henry Ford switched to a 40-hour work week: He realized that working longer hours didn’t necessarily guarantee being more productive. This is supported by a research done in a financial services firm in New Zealand: workers were 20% more productive after switching to a 32-hour/four-day workweek than they were during a 40-hour workweek while still being compensated the same. They were able to accomplish more in less time.
“Work smarter, not harder.” There is a reason we have been hearing this saying for decades. “First, working longer hours does not necessarily mean higher personal productivity,” say Harvard Business School researchers Robert Pozen and Kevin Downey. “Working smarter is the key to accomplishing more of your top priorities each day.”
3. Overworking Takes a Toll on Our Physical Health
There is a growing body of evidence to support how overworking puts employees and organizations at risk. According to a study published by Insurance Journal, overworking increases the risk of being injured by 61 percent, as well as the risk of having chronic diseases like diabetes, arthritis, and cancer.
You've definitely heard the statistics and warnings before: overworking has been linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, and lengthy work hours have been linked to obesity.
All in all, working long hours degrades your fitness level, takes its toll on your diet, and puts stress on your mind and body. What's the end result? Poor circulation, increased weight, cardiac difficulties, higher cholesterol levels, fatigue, poor sleep, poor concentration, nervous disorders, depression, and so on.
4. Overworking Has a Negative Effect On Our Wellbeing: Burnout and Stress in the Workplace
People who work long hours are twice as likely to have a major depressive episode, according to a study, especially if they work more than 11 hours per day. And according to another research by Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, there is a link between happiness and productivity: Workers are 13% more productive when happy. Researchers discovered that happy workers do not work more hours than their discontented counterparts; rather, they are more productive during their working hours.
This simply means more time invested does not, in fact, equal better output. Employees work harder and get more done in a shorter time span when they are happy, without needing to overwork.
So, How Many Hours Should You Work a Week?
We have always wondered how many hours is the ideal number of hours to work per week. But there is no answer to this question as there is no one size that fits all. However, scientists generally agree that the ideal working time is around 6 hours, and more concentrated in the morning.
Employees take advantage of their most productive hours and focus on other daily activities including social, sporting, and cultural.
But, once again, there is no one size that fits all. If you want to find which alternative work schedule suits you best, you need to consider your personal responsibilities, your job responsibilities, and your employer’s willingness to be flexible.
It doesn’t matter if you have more or less time. It’s not so much about having more time but it is about knowing what to do with that time. You may be working five days a week but if you don’t know how to achieve work-life balance, you will still struggle. You need to figure out the ways that work for you to maximize your productivity while reducing your stress.
- Productivity decreases when the employees aren’t able to get everything done.
- When workers are pressed for time, the quality of their work suffers.
- When employees can't take time off to learn something new or develop a technique that might benefit the company, growth stalls.
- Customer service suffers when employees are just concerned with making ends meet rather than developing and maintaining relationships with customers.
- When people lose interest in their work, morale nosedives. They either burn out or quit their job.
Ways to Deal With Overworking Problem
When you're at work, you should feel enthusiastic, driven, and appreciated. You should have time to learn new things, develop your skills and talents, and contribute to the company's success.
Workplace culture is crucial for keeping employees motivated and satisfied. It's important to create a positive environment and encourage your employees to take control of their work.
Here are some tips on how to deal with overworking problem:
- Make sure you set boundaries. For example, once you have completed your work for the day, inform your team that you will not be checking your emails or messages until the following morning. You'll be able to take advantage of your spare time to its fullest and appreciate the here and now.
- Make sure you tell your manager if you're feeling overburdened or in need of a break from the long hours you're putting in.
- Many people feel that they can multitask, however, this isn't true. Every time you switch from one task to another, it takes your brain a while to adjust. This means that you're not actually working more efficiently by switching between tasks and will end up taking longer to complete your work. The best way to get ahead of the game is to set aside a specific amount of time each day and dedicate it entirely to one task. This will allow you to concentrate.
- Don't waste a minute of paid time off; it's there for a good purpose. If you're not using all of the vacation time that your company offers, start taking advantage. You'll feel better about yourself and be healthier if you take a break from work every once in a while.
- When you're not working, you should be doing something that will recharge your batteries. This might include spending time with friends and family, exercising or even just taking a walk around the block.
Companies Setting the Ground for a Shorter Workweek
The majority of us are left to make the best of the time we have as not all of us have the flexibility to reduce our workweek to, let’s say, 32 hours. But the good news is that you can still maximize your productivity while minimizing your stress.
Focus on one task at a time, take breaks when you reach your breaking points, and, last but not least, track your time.
Tracking your time with a tool is an actionable way to understand how you’re making use of the hours you have. By tracking it, you can improve the way you use it.