How many of us work our 40 hour workweek productively?
I would hesitate to say that there are very few of us that use the 40 hours each week to the best of our ability. Why is that? Is it that there are not enough hours in each week for us to get done what we need to get done? Are we hampered by others that we are relying on to get our jobs done? Do we get so stressed by the 8-5 constraint to get things done that we, in fact, cannot get anything done?
I have been doing a lot of reading about the viability of the 40 hour workweek lately. It all began when I ran across the article Are You Working Harder, or Working Smarter?: Looking at the 40 Hour Work Week on lifehack.org. As I read it, I became intrigued at what has long been considered the standard for working in America, and as I thought, the rest of the world.
The article chronicles the history of the 40 hour work week beginning with the industrial revolution through its official adoption in 1938 through the Fair Labor Standards Act. It also talks a little about the standard work week for other countries, and shows that the American work week is far from the norm. Some countries are as low as 27 hours per week, while the European Union countries are capped at 48 hours per week. In fact, some recent research has suggested that “an average worker needs to work a mere 11 hours per week to produce as much as one working 40 hours per week in 1950.”
So that leads me to wonder what is more important (1) getting in your 40 hours per week and stressing that it may not be enough time to get everything done, or (2) getting all of your work done productively and unstressed outside of the normal 8-5 day?
I think that we would love to be able to get our work done productively and unstressed, but how many of our bosses are going to let us break the sanctum of the 8-5 workday? 37signals CEO Jason Fried has it right, “I don’t believe in the 40-hour workweek, so we cut all that BS about being somewhere for a certain number of hours. I have no idea how many hours my employees work — I just know they get the work done.” That is really what it is about…getting your work done.
Sure, there are a lot of professions that cannot break that mold. I happen to work for a city government in Information Technology, so I have to be there when my users are there, and they have to be there when the public expects them to be there…which is 8:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday through Friday. I have to be around in a support role for my users whenever something is going wrong, or something breaks. But, then ironically, I have to be there when no one else is there to do any sort of maintenance on the network or servers so that I don’t interrupt anyone else’s work day.
All of this to say, that even I am expected to get my work done, whether it is between 8-5 or it is not. The toll that it is taking on Americans to get their work done no matter the cost (in time) is getting heavier by the year. It is particularly hard right now during the current economic recession because we are all fearful for our jobs. So we are willing to put in the extra time at work to get things done. The price that we are paying is lost time with our wives and kids, and that is throwing off our work-life balances year by year. Studies have shown that employees that carry Blackberries are extending their workweek an extra 15 hours per week by using at home, at the ballparks and dance recitals, when we should be focused on our family.
It seems that we think that working longer hours will make us more productive, but in fact, as will most things, the opposite is showing to be true. Productivity is lost when you cannot break away from your job and recharge yourself with activities that bring you happiness. In the end, we get burned out as employees and our company does not get our best effort and may suffer unintended consequences from it.
So what is the answer?
We all quit our jobs and go work at 37signals!
I wish…really I do!
What we need to do as employees is to make sure that we are breaking away from the office as often as possible to recharge our bodies. I am in a great situation at my job in that I can break away during the day (mostly to my son’s baseball practice/games) and pick up working from my house by connecting to my office remotely. I usually do this after my wife and kids go to bed so that I can spend my evening with them and hear what is going on in their lives. Luckily, my wife works for the city so we are able to get away for lunches and such regularly and that allows us to really focus on our kids at night.
Hopefully, Jason and I will be able to fill these pages with helpful hints and ideas for anyone in any profession to be able to implement to keep themselves sane when they are looking at the 52nd hour of work in any given week. Please come back regularly to check on how we are doing, as this is one of those outside work activities that we do to stop the insanity!
What do you fill your hours outside of the office with to make sure that you keep that work-life balance in check?
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