I only discovered this INC article  published on the Time website in which Geoffrey James discussed the diminishing returns of working more than forty hours a week for more than a few weeks. The article starts with the realization, remember this was written in early 2012, that the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, went home at 5:30pm every day to be with her kids. It continues with some editorial but the argument in the post was that working 40 hours a week for long periods of time wasn’t going to be good for the employee or the employer.
I know plenty of people who works forty-plus hours a week. They go in on weekends, they work long hours during the day, and it’s all in the name of productivity. Some of these people have been doing it for years. There’s one guy who doesn’t feel right unless he goes in on weekends and we joke that one day he’ll come home and be surprised to find out that his kids are going off to college (he doesn’t have kids yet). The difference with many of them is that they love what they do. The forty-plus is less of a grind for them and more of a voluntary thing that they enjoy doing because, honestly, college wasn’t a 40 hour a week job. It was often 70 hours or 80 hours a week. When we made the transition to “work,” it was a step down to only do 50!
That said, we’ve also lived in a period of relative prosperity in which many in that industry (defense) who performed well also had good job security. You devoted sixty hours a week to the job and it was extremely unlikely you would get fired. It can sometimes feel like the company “owes” you for your devotion and hard work but they don’t. When the numbers stop adding up, you won’t be part of the numbers and that’s simply the sad reality of how business works.
When working, I never had many 60 hour weeks. There were a few times when I was working on a proposal where I’d put in some pretty big weeks but it wasn’t ever for long stretches of time. A couple weeks of 60 hours a week can show you how hard you can push. The research says there’s diminished productivity and risks of burning out but I never worked 60+ hours for long enough for that to kick in, fortunately, but I suspect it’s there. I was also unmarried, no kids, and what I was risking was simply time at the gym or in front of the television.
To do that today for too long would not be healthy for me physically or emotionally, as it’s no longer just TV time that gets lost. It’s quality time with family and I don’t want to come home one day and find out my kids were at college. 🙂
(Photo Credit: darkmatter )