I hate to break it to anyone still holding out hope, but the 40 hour workweek is indeed dead. Deader than the chrysanthemums on my deck that I forgot to water, deader than the zombies on The Walking Dead, deader than the neighborhood squirrel that ran out in front of my car last week (totally kidding on that one, just going for the dramatic effect…RIP Chuckles).
This certainly isn’t surprising news. Multiple articles on the topic have been written this year (here are posts on CNN Money and Fortune, to name a few). So you might be thinking, what’s the big deal? Well, according to Gallup poll results from 2014, a full-time employee in the U.S. works an average of 47 hours per week. That’s right, almost a full extra days’ worth of hours. The poll results state that, “half of full-time workers indicate they typically work more than 40 hours, and nearly four in 10 say they work at least 50 hours.” Yikes!!
Although the facts clearly speak for themselves, the bigger question remains. Why? What is causing the workforce to push beyond the hours of the traditional workweek? When I started thinking about what motivates us to work longer, two areas immediately came to mind.
Fear of missing out (FOMO)
At this point we have all heard of FOMO and its associations with social media and the anxious feeling that we might be missing out on something important or fun. But FOMO also applies to workplace situations. A survey by the U.S. Travel Association shows that 41% of Americans do not plan to use all of their paid time off. Why?
- 40% are worried about returning to a mountain of work
- 35% believe that no one else can do the work that they can do
- 21% are afraid that they will lose their job or be seen as replaceable
But what does this have to do with employees working longer hours? One word… fear. Fear that if they don’t match the office time of their co-workers they will be seen as lazy. Fear that if they don’t put in the extra hours they will be seen as replaceable. Fear that if they don’t stay and finish something tonight they will come in to find an unmanageable mountain of work tomorrow. Simply put, we work longer because we are too afraid of the repercussions.
Always connected = always working
The few minutes that we take to respond to a work email while watching TV, walking the dog, eating at a restaurant, and taking a shower (yes, that is a real example that I heard from a coworker once) add up to extra hours. Gone are the days of logging into our desktop computers when we arrive at work and logging out when we head home.
Mobile devices have enabled us to work more hours just because we can, because work is now available to us at all hours of the day; anywhere we can get a cell signal. A Gartner survey showed that 40% of respondents used their own personal devices for work, and according to an article from BBC, more than half of workers feel that they are expected to work faster and meet deadlines sooner as a result of always being connected and nearly half believe that their employers expect them to be available anytime, anywhere.
So what now?
The 40 hour workweek is officially six feet under, but a workforce of overworked, burnt out employees can be detrimental to the long-term success of an organization. The question becomes, how do we ensure a healthy work-life balance for our employees?
My number one suggestion would be to lead by example. Going back to the research above, 63% of senior business leaders say that they don’t unplug while away from the office, setting an unintended example for their employees and adding to the fear of not meeting expectations. A great example of a boss with the right idea – a friend of mine had a boss with a policy to delete any emails that came in from team members after 6 PM unread. Her reasoning? If it was an emergency it would warrant a phone call, if not, it could wait until the following day.
Creating a workplace culture where taking time off and maintaining a healthy work-life balance are encouraged starts from the top down. The “traditional” workweek might be dead, but your employees shouldn’t feel like they would rather be.
What do you think?