How Many Hours a Week Should You Work Ideally?

How Many Hours a Week Should You Work Ideally?

How Many Hours a Week Should You Work Ideally?

In today’s fast-paced world, the question “how many hours in a week should you be working?” is more relevant than ever. If you quickly Google it, you’ll find tons of websites saying that 40 hours a week is the ideal work hours, but that’s not what actual scientific researches claim.

In this article, we will explore standard/traditional workweeks, optimal workloads for well-being, and insights into workplace activities from research. Let’s dive in!

A. Defining a Standard Workweek

In numerous organizations worldwide, a standard workweek is generally defined as 40 hours. This concept has been deeply embedded in our societal norms over the years, establishing a reference point for an individual with a routine. However, it’s important to note that the actual hours worked often surpass this standard, which has sparked ongoing conversations about overworking and its associated implications.

On average, the length of a workweek varies across countries, typically hovering around 40 hours. The conventional workday usually begins at 09:00 a.m. and concludes around 05:00 p.m. Some countries, however, observe shorter workweeks, while others may require more than 50 hours per week.

But does this suggest we’re actively working for a solid 40 hours? Or does it merely represent the time we spend within an office environment? It’s likely the latter scenario is more accurate. It’s hardly surprising that employee productivity doesn’t align with the traditional timetable. The reality is, most of us struggle to maintain consistent productivity levels throughout an entire eight-hour workday.

B. Healthy Work Hours: Striking the Right Balance

Various factors, including personal circumstances, employment type, and overall work-life balance, influence what is considered a healthy number of hours to work each week. Generally, experts and labor regulations recommend a standard 40-hour workweek for full-time employment. However, exceeding this limit on a regular basis can lead to negative consequences such as increased stress, exhaustion, and a higher risk of burnout.

Emphasizing Work-Life Balance

Recognizing the importance of employee well-being and productivity, there is a growing emphasis on encouraging work-life balance and implementing flexible work arrangements. Some nations have established laws limiting work hours, and certain companies offer shortened workweeks or flexible scheduling to enhance worker happiness and mental health.

Individual Considerations for 20-Hour Workweeks

Working 20 hours a week is not inherently bad; it depends on various factors. Part-time employment, financial situation, career objectives, health, and flexible work arrangements can make a 20-hour workweek a suitable option for certain individuals. However, financial implications and potential limitations on benefits must be considered before opting for part-time work.

The Health Impact of 60-Hour Workweeks

Regularly working 60 hours a week is generally considered unhealthy, with potential negative effects on physical and mental health. Burnout, physical health issues, mental health challenges, disrupted work-life balance, strained relationships, and decreased productivity are among the consequences of consistently long work hours.

The Excessive Nature of 70-Hour Workweeks

Working 70 hours a week is undeniably excessive and can have severe repercussions on both physical and emotional well-being. Beyond the direct health effects, it often leads to strained relationships, worsened work-life balance, and reduced overall satisfaction. Maintaining a healthy balance between work and personal life is crucial for long-term success and fulfillment in one’s career.

C. Insights into Workplace Activities from Research

Research conducted by Vouchercloud involving 1,989 UK office workers provides intriguing insights into daily office productivity and challenges the norms associated with the traditional eight-hour workday. This study explored the online habits and productivity levels of employees during their routine work hours.

Participants were asked to estimate the amount of time they genuinely spend productively working during their daily work hours. Surprisingly, the average response revealed that actual office productivity among all respondents was only ‘2 hours and 53 minutes’.

This data suggests that, on average, office workers are only productive for approximately three hours a day. The rest of the time is frequently consumed by other activities not directly related to their work. The study further investigated these distractions, revealing that checking social media, reading news websites, and discussing non-work-related activities with colleagues were common diversions.

These findings pose significant questions about the efficacy of the conventional eight-hour workday. If employees are only able to maintain productivity for around three hours out of the eight, it prompts businesses to reconsider why such a schedule is enforced. It also underscores the importance of understanding the potential impacts of imposing rigid working hours on our cognitive abilities.

This research encourages a reevaluation of the effectiveness of an eight-hour workday and its alignment with actual productivity levels. It highlights the need to explore alternative approaches that prioritize efficiency, cognitive well-being, and employee satisfaction over rigid time structures. Ultimately, it opens up a broader discussion about the ideal number of hours individuals should be working per week to achieve optimal productivity and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

D. Origin of the Standard Week

The concept of a standard 40-hour workweek has its roots in the industrial revolution and labor movements of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. During this period, factory workers often faced grueling 10-16 hour workdays, six days a week.

The push for shorter work hours began with Robert Owen, a Welsh industrialist and social reformer, who in 1817 coined the slogan “Eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.” Despite his efforts, it took many decades until the 40-hour workweek became widespread.

The Ford Motor Company was one of the first major corporations to adopt a five-day, 40-hour workweek in 1926. The move was not just altruistic; Henry Ford believed that longer leisure time would increase consumer demand for products, including cars.

The Fair Labor Standards Act, passed in the United States in 1938, enshrined the 40-hour workweek into law, mandating overtime pay for hours worked beyond this limit. This legislation played a crucial role in making the 40-hour workweek the norm.

Today, despite numerous changes in work patterns and technology, the 40-hour workweek remains a standard, largely due to cultural inertia and legal frameworks. However, emerging trends like remote work and flexible hours are challenging this norm and sparking discussions about the future of work.

In conclusion, the standard 40-hour workweek is a product of historical labor movements, industrial practices, and legislative measures. Its endurance testifies to its deep-seated influence, but its future may be reshaped by evolving work trends and demands for greater work-life balance.

E. Can We Still Benefit from the 40-Hour Work Week?

The traditional 40-hour work week has long been the standard in many industries and countries. Its origins trace back to the industrial revolution when labor movements advocated for better working conditions. But as our society and work environments evolve, it’s worth re-examining the benefits this structure still holds today.

Among the benefits of a 40-hour work week is its predictability and structure, which can help employees manage their time effectively. A study titled “An Analysis of Workers‘ Attitudes toward the 4-Day, 40-Hour Workweek” found that maintaining the customary workweek had advantages such as providing a consistent schedule and ensuring adequate rest periods between shifts.

However, the effectiveness of this traditional workweek model is being questioned. A literature review on the “Effectiveness of a Four-days/Eight Hour Work Week” suggested that reducing the standard five-day, 40-hour week to 32 hours per week could bring benefits to both employees and employers. The advantages include improved work-life balance, increased productivity, and reduced operational costs.

In another study titled “The Relationship between the Average Workweek Length and Per Capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP)”, it was found that working an extreme number of hours has little benefit. Countries where workers work fewer hours per week were found to have a higher GDP per capita, suggesting that shorter work weeks might be more beneficial for both individuals and economies.

Furthermore, a research article “Effects of the Shorter Workweek on Selected Satisfaction and Performance Measures” examined the impact of a 4-day, 40-hour workweek. This study found that this change in working conditions brought about positive effects on job satisfaction and performance.

While these studies suggest potential benefits of moving away from the traditional 40-hour work week, it’s important to note that what works best may vary depending on the industry, company, and individual employees. As such, it’s crucial for organizations to consider their unique circumstances when deciding on the most suitable workweek structure.

F. Consequences of Prolonged Work Hours

In today’s fast-paced and increasingly connected world, the boundaries between work and personal life can often blur, leading many individuals to work beyond the standard 40-hour workweek. While dedication to one’s job is admirable, prolonged work hours can have serious consequences, potentially leading to burnout, decreased productivity, and physical and mental health issues. It’s essential to recognize these risks and take steps to mitigate them.

Assessing Workload: Am I Overworked or Underproductive?

Distinguishing between overwork and mere laziness can pose a challenge. If long hours are consistently being invested without a corresponding sense of accomplishment, overwork may be the culprit. Indicators of being overworked encompass enduring fatigue, struggling with concentration, experiencing a deterioration in job performance, and persistently feeling stressed or anxious about work even during periods of leisure.

On the other hand, if you’re struggling to start or complete tasks, procrastinating more than usual, or lacking motivation despite reasonable working hours and workload, you might be grappling with laziness or lack of motivation. It’s important to honestly assess your situation and feelings to understand whether you’re dealing with overwork or a motivational slump.

Communicating Workload Concerns to Your Boss

Communicating effectively about being overworked is crucial. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Prepare for the Conversation: Gather evidence to support your claim. This could include specific instances where the workload was unmanageable, impacts on your health, or a log of your working hours.
  2. Plan Your Talking Points: Be clear about what you hope to achieve from the conversation. Are you seeking a reduced workload, more team support, or better project planning?
  3. Choose the Right Time: Find a suitable time to talk to your boss. Avoid times when they might be rushed or stressed.
  4. Be Honest and Constructive: Express your concerns honestly but avoid sounding accusatory. Focus on the impact of the workload on your productivity and wellbeing, and suggest possible solutions.

What Does Burnout Feel Like?

Burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress or overwork. It can manifest in various ways, including:

  • Chronic Fatigue: You may feel tired all the time, struggle to get out of bed, or lack energy to perform your daily tasks.
  • Increased Illness: Your body might become more susceptible to infections due to a weakened immune system.
  • Anxiety or Depression: You might experience feelings of hopelessness, sadness, or anxiety. This could also lead to irritability or mood swings.
  • Cognitive Problems: Concentration and attention can suffer, and you might find it hard to remember details.
  • Decreased Productivity and Performance: Despite long working hours, your job performance and productivity may decline.

If you recognize these symptoms, it’s important to seek professional help and consider ways to reduce stress and workload. Remember, maintaining your health and wellbeing is crucial for sustainable productivity and success at work.

G. Identifying the Threshold: What Constitutes Overworking?

Overworking is a complex issue that extends beyond the simple metric of “how many hours in a week” one works. It also encompasses the intensity, nature, and mental demands of the work. Overworking often begins to manifest when work starts to intrude significantly on personal life, well-being, and health.

For some, a 50-hour workweek might be manageable and fulfilling, while for others, it might lead to stress and fatigue. The threshold varies widely between individuals, influenced by factors such as job role, personal resilience, support networks, and overall life circumstances. When work consistently leads to physical exhaustion, interferes with personal responsibilities, or causes persistent stress or anxiety, these are strong indicators of overworking. Over time, these signs can escalate into more serious problems like burnout, chronic health issues, or mental health disorders.

Furthermore, the nature of the tasks performed also plays a significant role in what constitutes overworking. High-intensity work that requires constant attention, decision-making, or emotional involvement can be more draining than tasks that allow for periods of rest or routine work. Additionally, a lack of control over one’s work, insufficient rewards, and minimal support can exacerbate the feeling of being overworked.

In conclusion, identifying overworking isn’t just about counting work hours. It’s about understanding how work affects an individual’s physical and mental health, personal life, and overall well-being. Recognizing the signs early and taking proactive steps can help prevent the severe consequences of overworking.

H. The Risks of Overworking

Overworking, the act of working beyond one’s capacity for extended periods, can lead to chronic stress, exhaustion, and a host of other health problems. It can also affect relationships and overall quality of life. Below, we delve into the various risks associated with overworking.

Mental Health Implications

One of the most significant risks of overworking is its impact on mental health. Chronic stress from long working hours and high job demands can lead to mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. According to a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, individuals who work 11 hours or more per day have a higher risk of depression compared to those working 7-8 hours a day.

Physical Health Consequences

Overworking can also take a toll on physical health. Long work hours often lead to insufficient rest, which can exacerbate health problems. Overworked individuals are at a higher risk of developing conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, as found by a study published in the Lancet. Moreover, chronic fatigue from overworking can weaken the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections and illnesses.

Impact on Relationships and Social Life

Overwork doesn’t just affect the individual; it also impacts their relationships and social life. When work dominates an individual’s time and energy, it leaves little room for personal relationships and social activities. This can lead to isolation, strained relationships, and decreased life satisfaction.

Decreased Productivity and Performance

Ironically, while overworking often stems from a desire to increase productivity, it can actually result in the opposite effect. Research in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine shows that overwork can lead to decreased productivity and performance. Exhaustion from long hours can impair cognitive function, leading to mistakes, decreased creativity, and poor decision-making.

Risk of Burnout

The culmination of these factors can lead to burnout, a state of chronic physical and emotional exhaustion. Burnout is characterized by feelings of cynicism, detachment from work, and a sense of ineffectiveness. It’s a serious condition that requires professional intervention and significant lifestyle changes.

I. Striking the Right Balance: Finding the Ideal Workweek Duration

The perennial question of the optimal number of work hours per week lacks a universal answer, acknowledging the absence of a one-size-fits-all solution. Nonetheless, scientific consensus tends to favor an ideal working time of approximately 6 hours, particularly concentrated in the morning.

During these prime hours, employees capitalize on their heightened productivity, allocating the remaining time for various daily pursuits, such as social interactions, sports, and cultural activities.

However, individual preferences and circumstances introduce variability. Determining the most suitable alternative work schedule requires a consideration of personal and job responsibilities, alongside the flexibility offered by employers.

Whether one has more or fewer working hours, the crucial factor lies not in the quantity of time but in understanding how to optimize it. Effectively achieving work-life balance is paramount, even for those adhering to a traditional five-day workweek. To combat challenges, individuals must identify strategies that align with their unique needs, ensuring maximum productivity while mitigating stress.

In Brief:

  1. Employee productivity dwindles when tasks remain unfinished.
  2. Quality of work declines when workers face time constraints.
  3. Inability to take time off for learning hampers personal development and company growth.
  4. Customer service suffers when employees prioritize financial needs over relationship-building.
  5. Declining work interest results in plummeting morale, leading to burnout or job resignation.

J. Strategies to Address the Issue of Overworking

Overcoming overworking requires both individual efforts and organizational changes. Here are some strategies that can help address this issue.

Setting Boundaries

One of the first steps to combat overworking is setting clear boundaries between work and personal life. This could mean setting specific work hours, avoiding work-related activities outside of these hours, and ensuring you have time for relaxation and personal interests. It’s also essential to communicate these boundaries to colleagues and superiors to manage expectations.

Prioritizing Tasks

Effective task management can significantly reduce the risk of overworking. By prioritizing tasks based on their urgency and importance, you can focus your energy on what truly matters, reducing unnecessary stress and workload. Techniques like the Eisenhower Matrix can be useful in this context.

Taking Regular Breaks

Regular breaks are crucial to prevent burnout and maintain productivity. These breaks can provide a mental rest, reducing stress and fatigue. Try to incorporate short breaks throughout the day, as well as longer breaks such as weekends or vacations, free from work-related activities.

Promoting Work-Life Balance at Organizational Level

Organizations play a critical role in combating overworking. Implementing flexible work policies, such as remote working options and flexible hours, can help employees balance their work and personal life more effectively. Providing resources for stress management and promoting wellness initiatives can also contribute to a healthier work environment.

Encouraging Open Communication

Creating an environment where employees feel comfortable expressing their concerns about workload can help address the problem before it escalates. Regular check-ins between managers and employees can facilitate this communication and provide opportunities to discuss workload issues and potential solutions.

J. Progressive Company Practices: Shaping a Shorter Workweek

Several forward-thinking companies are beginning to recognize the benefits of shorter workweeks. By reducing the traditional 40-hour week, these firms are seeing increased productivity, improved employee satisfaction, and lower turnover rates. Below are some examples of companies who have implemented this progressive approach.

Case Study 1: Ford Motor Company

As far back as the era of the Great Depression, large firms like the Ford Motor Company were experimenting with initiatives that would promote recovery from economic downturns. The introduction of shorter workweeks was one of these strategies, aimed at reducing unemployment and boosting spending power among workers. While the specific outcomes of these early experiments are not well-documented, they establish an essential historical precedent for the shift towards shorter workweeks in industry.

Case Study 2: American Sustainable Business Council and the B Team

A group of businesses under the American Sustainable Business Council and the B Team have also embraced policies such as shorter workweeks and longer vacations. These measures are part of a broader commitment to integrating social, economic, and political democracy into their operations. These businesses represent a growing trend of organizations that view employee well-being as integral to their corporate responsibility and long-term success.

In conclusion, while there is no one-size-fits-all answer to “how many hours in a week should you really be working?”, it’s clear that striking a balance between work and personal life is crucial. Both individuals and organizations have a role to play in achieving this balance.

Picture of Jennifer Tierney

Jennifer Tierney

Jennifer comes from a discipline of Operations, including Finance and Technology. Having worked in operational and financial management for more than fifteen years, Jen has a distinct set of skills and is known for complex analysis of operations, finance, and technology to improve core business strategies.

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