Should You Work More Than 40 Hours a Week?

Maximize efficiency and productivity at work by limiting yourself to reasonable hours.

How long is your work week? Fifty hours? Sixty? Seventy? If you consistently work more than 40 hours a week (or are the manager of employees that do), it’s probably time for you to make a change. Overwhelming evidence suggests that work weeks of more than 40 hours are harmful not only to employees, but also to the company as a whole.

But with many misinformed professionals heralding long work weeks as a sign of true company loyalty and as a way to increase productivity, it’s understandable that you could find it difficult to buy into the idea of a mere 40 hours a week being optimal. However, facts don’t lie, and the facts say that it’s best to stick to a 40 hour work week.

Let’s look at just a few reasons for why the work week should be kept short:

It’s not good for employee well-being.

Not only do longer work weeks eventually negatively impact a company’s bottom line (as detailed below), but they can also sabotage an employee’s well-being. Although there are some exceptions, as certain people really do love their jobs, most people require time away from work. This gives them much-needed rest, and it also serves to improve their performance at work.

By spending excessive time at work, employees are reducing the amount of time they have for other important areas of their lives, many of which – when properly attended to – have been proven to improve employees’ work performance. Working long hours can have a negative impact on the following:

  • Nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Stress levels
  • Family life
  • Sleep

Again, studies have shown that when any of the above are neglected, employee performance suffers. So do yourself (and your employees) a favor, and give them some time to themselves. They need it, and so does your company.

It’s not good for employee performance or productivity.

Believe it or not, working longer hours does not result in increased productivity. I understand that this is hard to swallow, so it bears repeating: Working longer hours does not help you to get more done.

Numerous studies (such as this one and this one) have proven this to be true, and in fact, in years past, this used to be common knowledge. It is only recently (the 1970s by most accounts) that companies once again began demanding that their employees work longer hours.

In most cases, though, this is a downright self-defeating business practice. As the work week gets longer (whether by hours in a day or days in a week), the week’s productivity tends to remain exactly the same. In some instances, it even decreases. This is true for both white collar workers and manual laborers.

Working employees for ten hours a day results in no more output at the end of the week than working them for eight hour days. And working them for six days a week instead of five yields similar results. For employers who pay their workers by the hour, this has significant implications. If employees stop being productive after they work a certain number of hours, why pay them to stick around?

Most people are only capable of six to eight hours of productivity in a work day. The brain and body are far from immune to the stresses of work, and if overworked for too long, employees fail to function optimally. This means employees are working less efficiently and making mistakes more frequently, mistakes that someone will eventually have to correct – on the company’s dollar.

What’s more – and this is especially relevant for factories and other production-oriented workplaces – as employees work longer hours, companies are more likely to experience serious, catastrophic accidents. These accidents are not only damaging to company property (in terms of equipment and liability costs), but accidents on company property can also significantly harm a business’s reputation.

The relationship between hours worked and productivity also holds true for overtime. Although increasing work hours does result in productivity gains in the short term, this trend eventually stops. For example, in one Business Roundtable study, researchers discovered that overtime only increased company productivity in short bursts.

After a certain number of weeks, employees became too burned out to perform at their fullest abilities. For most employees, productivity starts to fall after only one full week. In the study, it took only eight weeks’ worth of 60 hour work weeks for employee productivity to decline significantly. In fact, the drop in productivity was so severe that it eventually matched the productivity levels of their original 40 hour work week! And the more overtime employees worked, the fewer weeks they were able to sustain the pace. For 80 hour work weeks, it took only three weeks for employee productivity to fall back to that of the 40 hour work week.

On top of this, even during the short window where overtime does result in increased productivity, there isn’t even a direct correlation between the amount of overtime and the increase in productivity. For example, in the Business Roundtable study mentioned above, researchers concluded that, despite conventional wisdom, a 50 percent increase in hours did not result in a 50 percent increase in productivity. Rather, the 50 percent increase in working hours (from 40 hours a week to 60 hours a week) only resulted in a productivity gain of about 25 percent.

Again, this is rooted in the fact that no matter how much we try to push ourselves, our brains and bodies are only capable of so much. After a certain point (again, around 40 hours for the vast majority of the population), we simply stop being productive.

There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but research and common sense indicate that for most individuals, working longer hours is simply not a good choice. Not only will it negatively affect employees’ personal lives, but it can (and usually does) have a terrible impact on your company’s performance as a whole.  So for the sake of your employees’ well-being and your company’s efficiency, it’s best to limit working hours.

About Andrew Jensen

Andrew Jensen, a business growth, efficiency & marketing consultant, provides business advisory services for clients in the Baltimore; Washington, D.C.; York, Hanover, Lancaster & Harrisburg, PA regions. Andrew advises regarding business growth, productivity, efficiency, business startups, customer service, and online/offline marketing. Follow Andrew on Google+

Comments

  1. Andrew,

    As a sales rep and first-line manager in both my medical and volunteer career I have found that I am obsessed with efficiency and sometimes that obsession has hurt my attitude/performance. I often focus too much on wanting to revise or change the system used, for the better and to save both time and money, but often others in the company don’t want to change the process even if they see that it will save themselves time in the long run. Unless upper management is sold on efficiency, it often rarely happens, unless they bring in a consultant.
    I am beginning to see that being a consultant in workforce efficiency is a career that I want to pursue. I believe that work can be less of drain on peoples lives when its approached and accomplished with greater efficiency. I live in the Atlanta area and wondered if you knew of any consultants in this area who are involved in what you do? If not, could you give me an idea of where to look to find other organizations like yours?

    Thank-you in advance for your advice,
    Sincerely,
    Clayton

    • Andrew Jensen says:

      Thank you for your comment. I don’t presently have any direct contacts with Atlanta based consultants who provide business efficiency consulting (though if an Atlanta efficiency consultant is reading this, I’m definitely looking to expand my network of consultant contacts). My recommendation would be to Google “business efficiency consultants Atlanta” or “business productivity consultants Atlanta” or “business management consultants Atlanta” and check through the organic & paid listings to see if any of those companies appear to be a good match (in terms of service offerings as well as location).

      If you desire to pursue the business efficiency/productivity, I’d recommend to shadow a local consultant or obtain an internship/apprenticeship with them. There are some large consulting firms (e.g Bain) which include business efficiency/productivity within their service spread, and it could be worthwhile pursuing an entry level position with them. Some consultants (like myself) thrive in a small-consulting-shop environment dealing with small-mid sized businesses, while others prefer to tackle large projects with a fleet of consultants. Large firms may offer a higher probability for an internship/entry level position, while a small firm may offer much more hands-on work (though finding a position with the right small firm may be very difficult).

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