Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Why Work More Than 50 Hours Per Week?

In a recent post, Passover, Work, and Corporate Idolatry, I touched on the year I went from working 90 hours to 60 hours a week. Six months later, I was working 50 hours a week. For me, the change came after I recognized my Corporate Idolatry.  I realized that I had made my company an Idol.  It was the most important thing in my life, and my identity revolved around doing what is best for the company.

Amazingly, no one at work noticed when I worked 40 fewer hours.

That raised a question for me: what is the ideal number of hours to work per week for a healthy work life balance?  It is tempting to call this a personal decision.  Many people I interviewed told me they worked long hours because they love their job, or feel compelled to do as well as they possibly can on every presentation, even if it means staying up till 2 to get it done.  “Don’t blame the company – I am choosing to do this.”  Granted it is a choice.

But I would argue that there is objective data that working more than 40 hours per week is counterproductive.  Henry Ford cut the number of hours his employees worked to 40 hours because it increased safety, reduced costs, and did not impact  the number of cars manufactured.  Yes, a six day week produced as many cars as a five day workweek  (For more, see this great article at Salon.com.)  “150 years of research proves that long hours at work kill profits, productivity and employees.”  Much of that research was conducted studying industrial workers, but it is clear that rest is even more important for today’s workers that rely on creativity and productivity.

 How Many Hours Do Executives and Managers Work?

It is amazingly hard to find statistics on how

28% work more than 60 hours per week

many hours per week executives work.  So, I started my own non-scientific poll on LinkedIn.  290 people responded, and here is what I found:  28% of people work more than 60 hours per week.  This is consistent with other reports I have seen that say that one third of Americans report being chronically overworked.

90-hour weeks – a symptom of Corporate Idolatry

Here is a time profile of a 90 hour workweek.  It requires

90 Hour Week – Symptom of Corporate Idolatry

  • 14 hr workdays (10 Sat & Sunday)
  • 5 hours sleep each night (7 Sat & Sunday)
  • 5 hours for everything else (food, family, exercise, sex)

Executives get the same pay for 90 hours as they do for 50 hours?  So why do it?  Its not money, and I would argue that in some cases it is misplaced devotion.  The graph doesn’t lie – there just are not enough hours to work 90 hours per week and to get enough sleep and maintain relationships with family and/or community.  So someone working 90 hour weeks is putting the company first.

A 50-hour work week allows people to come first

Here is a time profile for a 50-hour week.

  • 10 hr workdays (zero on weekend)
  • 7 hours of sleep every day
  • 7 hours for everything else during the week, and 17 a day on weekends

Here, you can have a life, and still have a productive career.  (Research says anything above 40 hours per week drops productivity, but even Europe has a 48 hour week by law these days.)

A question of values and priorities

Only 2% of respondents work 90 hour weeks, and only 31% work fewer than 50.  Somewhere between 50 and 90 hours a week, a boundary gets crossed, and  the company becomes more important than people. One person left a comment on the poll: “I’m surprised that there is hardly any[one] working over 60 hours a week!! Am I the only one!!”   No, but 70% of your peers are working fewer hours. The demographics and job titles tell an interesting tale – they appear similar at just about every time interval, which is good news for you – even VPs work less than 50 hour weeks, so you can too.

How to cut back?  I’ll leave a few ideas in the comments.  Please share what has worked for you!

Comments

  1. Greg Marcus says:

    To start going to bed earlier, I used to tell myself that my health was important, so I had to stop doing email by 9:30 to give me time to unwind. Then I stopped by 9 to spend time with my wife. In general, I focused on a positive substitution for the work.

  2. Great post Greg!

    Working more than 40-50 hours per week just seems inefficient.

    An executive should be able to delegate enough to not have to micro-manage every little thing. Those that don’t deligate have a bigger problem — they did not hire the right people.

    • Greg Marcus says:

      Thanks Jarie, and great point about delegation. It’s all part of the same picture.

  3. Roger Kent says:

    I joined a program called Workaholics Anonymous. Too much work is killing my body and my soul. Need I say more?

    • Greg Marcus says:

      Roger,
      Work can be an addiction, and I’m glad to hear that you are taking steps (no pun intended) to take care of yourself. Keep with it and things will get better, guaranteed.

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