The eight-hour workday is supposedly the standard in America. But it wasn’t always that way, and there is evidence that it is changing again.
When the government first started tracking it in 1890, manufacturing workers worked for 100 hours a week. In 1937 the Fair Labor Standards act set the standard for hourly workers, and the 40-hour workweek became the de-facto standard throughout most businesses. Now, the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes the average American works nearly nine hours a day. And a 2014 Gallup survey estimated the standard was almost 9 1/2 hours a week.
Some people see working longer hours as a means of demonstrating their dedication. But if you find that you feel the need to work long hours just to keep up, you are probably not working efficiently. Long hours won’t make you a better worker, but it can damage your health, plus your relationships with family and friends.
Unfortunately, we get mixed signals. Elon Musk bragged that on his 47th birthday, he spent it locked in his factory. “No friends, nothing.”
Perhaps your boss or other colleagues try to encourage others to stay late. I knew of a boss who would strive to remain later than all of his employees. It meant that everyone would stay later and later. They didn’t necessarily get more done. It became a game.
Consider these four steps to get better control of your work-life balance.
- Prioritize your tasks so that you don’t create a mindset that everything is equally important and must get done immediately.
- Avoid distractions. If you have one, close your office door when you are doing deep work that requires your concentration. Don’t get distracted by email.
- Set reasonable expectations for how many hours you will work each day and try to stick to it unless there is an emergency.
- Delegate tasks, if possible.
If you don’t become proactive at controlling the number of hours you work, you will find that life passes you by. If your only recreation is a work-related golf outing, you will likely see your stress level rise. Did you know that seventy percent of workers say they have suffered from stress symptoms? They report tension headaches, increased blood pressure, and rapid breathing.
According to a study of more than 85,000 men and women in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and the U.K, those who put in 55 hours or more a week, compared with 35 or 40, had a 1.4 times greater chance of having an abnormal heart rhythm known as atrial fibrillation. That can lead to having atrial fibrillation raises the odds of having a stroke.
Some companies are beginning to discourage workaholics. FullContact, a Denver-based software company, gives employees $7,500 if they take a vacation, but only if they unplug while away.
Remember that story about Elon Musk? Shortly after that interview with the New York Times, Tesla’s stock fell by 8,8% as investors worried about the entrepreneur’s health.