Benefits of a 40 Hour Workweek

As promised, I decided to write a post about reasons why employees should not overwork themselves. It is fairly common for high-level executives or professionals such as doctors and lawyers to work significantly more than 40 hours per week. In some companies this practice is frowned upon while in others it is encouraged. Does working 50, 60 or 70 hours actually make employees productive? 


Every person has a limit to how much they can produce in a given period of time. For most people, working 40 hours per week is the way to be most efficient. 40 hours seems to most people a reasonable amount of time to commit to working in a given week; work less than this amount and less will get done, but work more and productivity per hour will quickly begin to decline. Although output per hour will drop, wouldn't overall output still rise? 

Not for long.

Working under pressure people can perform well for short periods of time, but they wear out. This is essentially a distinction between acute stress and chronic stress. An employee who is working on an important project that requires an extra five or ten hours on a given week may feel activate acute stress; this will allow them to actually produce much more than usual as their body responds. However, if this situation were to drag on for three or four weeks, their body would enter a state of chronic stress. People who are chronically stressed perform at lower ability levels than those who are not stressed. Chronic stress increases the likelihood that a person will get sick. People who are stressed from working long hours are probably tired as well. Sleep deficits also contribue to a drop in productivity. After a month of working 60 or more hours per week, a person will likely be so fatigued, stressed and worn down that they will actually be less productive than when they worked for 40 hours. Their families will probably not be happy either!

These long work hours have become more common over time for Americans. Look at this picture from The Huffington Post which shows an increase in the number of hours worked between the 1970s and today.

Some high-level executives have in fact rejected the trend of working long hours. Take for example Facebook COO Cheryl Sandberg. She is a working mother who leaves the office every day by 5:30 to have dinner with her family. She claims that for years she was afraid to share this with people because they might think of her as lazy. Regardless of her "unmotivated" work ethic, she has managed to rise to near the top of Facebook. This certainly shows that it is possible to have both career success and a life on the outside.

If you are still not convinced of the benefits of a 40 hour workweek, try both for a month and see how you feel at the end!