Working and Working More

Did anyone miss the fact that work and life blends a little more each year? Most of us, no matter how determined never leave the office completely behind at the end of the day.  Clearly, technology facilitated this change by further interconnecting the different facets of our lives, but rising expectations reinforce the trend on an annual basis.  A few occupations still allow for a divide work and home, but most require a portion of an employee’s personal time.  Yesterday on a plane, a man bragged that “when he is home, he is home.”  His employer only contacts employees outside of work hours for emergencies.  His glee and the looks he received from fellow passengers summed up how rare a line of demarcation between work and home has become.

I interact with employees on a regular basis in while working with their organizations that voice concerns over the ever encroaching expectations of managers and the deterioration of work-life balance.  They reminisce about how missed vacations were reasonable requests in the past while today, personal or family time translates into work in a different venue.  There may be some exaggeration as we try to show value or commitment as employees. Recently the Harvard Business Review’s blog summarized a University of Maryland study on hours padding that found:


People overstate the number of weekly hours they “usually” work by 5% to 10%, with those on the higher end being more likely to overestimate, according to a study led by John P. Robinson of the University of Maryland. By examining U.S. workers’ time diaries, the researchers found that people who say they usually work 55 to 64 hours per week are off by an average of about 10 hours; people who say they work 65 to 74 hours are overstating by about 20 hours. Respondents may inflate their estimates because of a desire to appear industrious, the researchers suggest. (

Regardless of exaggeration, employees are actually working more than they have in previous decades.

A 2010 study on working hours found that on average, 85.8 percent of males and 66.5 percent of females work more than 40 hours per week.  The level of productivity of the US worker has more than doubled since 1948.  Put simply, we can now produce our 1948 standard of living in less than half the time it took back then.  Now, we own and consume double what we would have in 1948.  What has been the cost? More work hours.  Hours have risen for men and women, working class employees as well as professionals. This loss of free time impacts groups regardless of marital statuses or income. Post-industrial enterprises might seem to be the primary culprit, but most industries have increased work time.

These additional hours result in being overworked.  Approximately one third of employees in 2001 felt overworked according to a survey by the Families and Work Institute.  The results indicated that:

  • 28% felt overworked often or very often
  • 28% felt overwhelmed by how much work they had to do often or very often
  • 54% felt overworked at least sometimes
  • 55% felt overwhelmed at least sometimes

A more recent survey found that approximately 40 percent now feel overworked often or very often.  New expectations not only have reduced free time, but redefined “normal” effort in the workplace.

Extra time and productivity may sound like a winning proposition for managers.  However, as employers, there is a tradeoff.   Among the overworked, stress, depression, work mistakes, and personal issues are common place.  As human beings, we have limits and after a certain threshold, diminishing returns reduce the real value of the extra time worked.  What is the magic number? For most people it is between 40 and 45 hours a week.

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