"40 hours a week is just about right"

Productivity is the key to business success, not working hours.

Derwentwater RootsFor centuries we’ve known that productivity is heavily influenced by the number of hours we work. We know that we have to put in the hours if we are going to produce anything, but we also know that if we work too many hours our productivity decreases. Put simply – there’s a limit to how much you can produce in a week.

Inc. returned to this subject this week – Stop Working More Than 40 Hours a Week:

The workaholics (and their profoundly misguided management) may think they’re accomplishing more than the less fanatical worker, but in every case that I’ve personally observed, the long hours result in work that must be scrapped or redone.

This article was written on the back of the announcement that Sheryl Sandberg the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook leaves work at 17:30 every day to be with her family. That this is newsworthy is itself a testament to the state of the modern working environment.

The Inc. article is a good summary of the issue, but there’s one part that I’d quite like to comment on:

Proponents of long work weeks often point to the even longer average work weeks in countries like Thailand, Korea, and Pakistan–with the implication that the longer work weeks are creating a competitive advantage.

However, the facts don’t bear this out.  In six of the top 10 most competitive countries in the world (Sweden, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, and the United Kingdom), it’s illegal to demand more than a 48-hour work week.  You simply don’t see the 50-, 60-, and 70-hour work weeks that have become de rigeur in some parts of the U.S. business world.

As a worker in the United Kingdom I can tell you that while these details are technically correct, they aren’t practically correct, as least not from my perspective. I know many people in Britain who regularly put in 50, 60, 70 hour working weeks and have done so for an extended periods of time. For them these kind of working hours have become de rigeur. We have traditionally had quite a lax implementation of the working time directive so it’s not really appropriate to assume that people work less than 48 hours because that’s what the law says.

It’s personally very interesting that five countries (50%) who, I understand, implement the working time directive in a more stringent way are ahead of the UK in the Global Competitive Report. So in that respect the article still makes a very valid point, we still have a lot of lessons to learn.

2 thoughts on “"40 hours a week is just about right"”

  1. I seem to be reading more and more of these articles in recent months. Has the impact of the global downturn made people rethink there priorities in life? I’m glad Sheryl Sandburg has said she leaves at 17:30 to spend time with her family hopefully others will too. We have watched the likes of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates achieve success through long hours and a workaholic tendency and have confused money with success. Someone said this to me a while ago whilst discussing the long working hours, stress and burn out which sums it up “You won’t find a medal on a shroud”.

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    1. It’s something I’m reminded of every time I go to Manchester Airport and see the signed for Quarry Bank Mill – the owner there recognised it back in the days of child labour.

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