Does 80 hour work week really make us more productive?

  • February 11, 2021
  • by Ola Rybacka
  • No comments

Around the world, most of us spend at work 8 hours per day straight, breaks assumed, especially in the case of “office” professions. Covid situation changed it a little bit – working at home, some of us don’t perform 8 hours straight and take longer breaks, e.g., to pick up the children from kindergarten. What if an employer requires us to work 80 hours a week? Sounds quite ridiculous, doesn’t it? Believe me; some companies don’t pay their employees if they didn’t reach this target. But how can it be truly productive?

Do we really need to give up our free time to become successful?

What does an 80 hour work week look like?

As I mentioned before, a typical work week consists of 8 hours per day, 5 days a week. It gives a reasonable 40 hours per week. In comparison, working 80 hours a week means you should spend 16 hours a day on your work-related activities! This calculation saves us only 8 hours per day for rest and sleep (having a Monday-Friday schedule). I’m sure some of you think that it leads us straight to burnout.

But believe me, some people sacrifice their personal life for extremely hard work. And what if I told you you’ve already heard about one of them?

Some time ago, Elon Musk stated he works even 120 hours per week and often sleeps on his factory floor. That’s a ridiculous number – it’s a 3/4 of what most of us do during the entire month. Sure thing he was exhausted (and even admitted it), so that he shortened working hours to 80-90 per week. Less than it was, but still too many. Does it mean that if somebody really manages to work that much, it applies to each other? And at what cost?

Rational thinking, you would say. Unfortunately, some companies still replace their employees if they don’t meet this incredible high working hours goal. In a nutshell, if you don’t generate results, you’re fired.

tired woman at desk

Who’s responsible for working long hours?

Unfortunately, the fault is always two-sided.

First, managers have their misconceptions that they can order the employees to work as many hours as they wish and even explain it as “necessary” to ensure the company’s success. It makes the employees feel if they don’t meet such extreme goals, it will cause failure and lead them straight to being fired. The claims like “we count on you, you’re an important part of the team” also make them feel guilty. Finally, the less assertive people don’t know how to stand up to the managers and work until burnout, forgetting entirely about work-life balance.

On the other side, employees have a false idea that if they’re working long hours, it’ll be more appreciated by the higher-ups. That’s why they don’t complain about 80 hour work week and often are good with staying in the office overtime.

You start a circle and it’s hard to stop – if the employees give permission for such treatment, the managers won’t have any obstacles to use them as they wish.

However, there’s another reason for such behavior. It’s an impact of hard work, deeply rooted in most of the cultures around the world. We’ve already heard many stories about people who went from rags to riches thanks to their huge effort and hard work. The moral is pretty simple and heroic – the more (hours a day) we work, the more we get. Even better if your teammates are the witnesses of your activities, then the so-called sacrifice will be justified.

What about the remote workers?

A current pandemic situation doesn’t help. Many of us around the world work from home, and it entirely changed our work routine. Those who used to spend at the office from 9 to 5 and had to devote some time each day to get to it now can work straight from their bed. Instead of rest, some people just work overtime, because they don’t realize it’s time they should leave their offices in the “normal” world. Luckily, using a productivity tracker apps prevents these situations, because it tracks the time we spend on daily work-related activities. Just a single glace on a timesheet and we already know it’s time to turn the computer off.

Exceptions

Of course, when talking about the negative effects of maintaining 80 hours workweek I mean the “desk-related” professions. Their activities usually don’t require sitting in the office twice more than the regular workweek. But I’m sure we can’t imagine a situation when a doctor or nurse leave their patient half through the diagnostic process just because it’s 5 PM already. The same goes for other professions of public trusts, like firefighters, policemen, etc.

tired man at desk

How does an 80 hour work week affect our health?

Working too many hours per week doesn’t leave much time for free-time activities, like our hobbies, spending some quality time with friends or family, playing around with a dog or a cat. Not to mention a peaceful rest. Many research proves that sleep is essential at any age – we should dedicate on average 7-9 hours of sleep per day. It’s all about mental care – sleep allows our brains to relax and regenerate.

Having not enough sleep leads straight to exhaustion, a higher stress rate, and an inability to focus properly. It gets even worse if you work 7 days per week 4 weeks in the month. Unless you want to become a second Elon Musk, but I don’t guarantee you’ll be as rich as him, sacrificing your life for work.

A higher stress rate has a terrible effect on our health. There are many negative effects, let me mention the most significant ones:

  • headache, muscle and chest pain,
  • fatigue and sleep problems,
  • anxiety, sadness, and even depression,
  • high tobacco and alcohol use,
  • anger and outbursts,
  • lack of motivation, lower ability to focus.

As you can see, 80-hour workweek at the amount of stress it causes has a negative impact on our both physical and mental health. Bad psyche and body effects also damage our behavior and can cause unexpected anger outbursts. Imagine that you’re so stressed and tired, having tons of tasks to do, and the troublesome teammate or manager wants to discuss something urgently… Sounds like a disaster coming.

Feeling less motivated, step by step we begin to hate what we do, even if we enjoyed every single task we performed before. Day by day it makes us hate our job. But it’s not that easy to quit the work and find another. We also risk the new job conditions would be the same and we jump from the frying pan into the fire.

Is it possible to change these extreme work conditions?

It’s not that easy to say “work smarter, not harder”, it doesn’t make it all right. Skipping the responsibilities just because you should perform it in time what people who work 40 hours a week call overtime isn’t also the best option. The higher-ups will definitely take it as an act of insubordination which will only make the entire situation worse.

First, try to talk honestly with your managers and teammates. Maybe working that much is just an art for an art’s sake? Maybe if you convince them there’s a chance to perform your duties successfully in less time, they’ll consider lowering the number of hours per week?

Of course, it shouldn’t be done at the cost of the lower wage. We should be paid for the results, not for the number of hours we spend doing our job. Spending 80 hours a week at work doesn’t guarantee maximum performance. As I mentioned before, working this way long-term affects our health badly. Won’t have a long wait for the negative effects and a drop in our overall performance.

Second, analyze the allocation of responsibilities in your team. Another reason for 80-hour workweek is that you probably have more on your plate than the others. Sure, it can be caused by your exceptional skills but believe me, the “someone is irreplaceable” saying is a myth. Sometimes it’s just a matter of trust that doesn’t allow to less experienced to prove themselves.

Third, the fact we spend too much time at work is because of poor time management skills. We often struggle to stick to the schedule and get irritated. To avoid it (and work fewer hours as well) create a plan, assign start and end dates. Don’t have a clue how to do it? Try yourself playing a time management game and follow these time management principles.

To sum up…

As you can see, there’s no place for productivity improvement when it comes to an 80 hour work week. It only makes us more stressed, overwhelmed, and less motivated. However, it’s hard to fight it when it’s a part of the employment contract, we can only discuss with managers and try to convince them about the negative impact of working long hours on the employees’ mental and physical health. Remember – working 80-90 hours a week doesn’t mean your more productive – it means you actually don’t have time for private life and passions. Why you’re paying such a high price for others’ satisfaction?

Ola Rybacka

Community Manager at TimeCamp, Ph.D., and speech therapy student, full-time otaku. よろしくお願いします!

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