Working Long Hours Doesn’t Make You More Productive

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By Kat Gal

How many hours do you work in a day? No, I mean really, truthfully – how many hours?

Do you consistently work long hours without taking proper time off?

This seems to be the new norm in today’s world. 40 hours a week doesn’t seem to be enough. 9 to 5 is more like 8 to 6 with over-time, weekend projects, finishing work at home, staying on call – just you continuing to work night and day, all the time.

But research shows that working consistently long hours without taking proper time off is a terrible idea for both you (the employee), your boss and your entire company. Working 80-hour work weeks regularly can leave your less productive than if you were to head home at 5pm and kept it at the used-to-be normal 40-hour work-week (or less).

Sarah Green Carmichael, journalist at the Harvard Business Review published a research, aiming to understand why people in developed countries work more than ever before.

According to her research, there is no evidence that longer work hours increase productivity. In fact, the opposite seems to be true.

Erin Reid from Boston University compared consultants who worked 80 hours a week to those who just pretended. There was no evidence found that employees who worked less actually accomplished less. Yet those who were transparent about working less were penalized.

Research has also found that extensive work hours increase stress and burnout in employees, leading to health problems, sleep impairment, depression, diabetes, heavy drinking and heart disease. Long work hours are linked to significantly higher risks of stroke as well. This takes a financial toll on companies, increasing staff turnover, absenteeism and raising health insurance costs.

Overworked employees suffering from sleep deprivation may have a harder time recognizing other people’s emotions and social cues. These tired employees may struggle to make good decisions, which are an important part of any job.

The most interesting thing is that longer hours not only affect physical and emotional well-being negatively, but also don’t make you more productive.

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Overwork Doesn’t Equal Productivity

In the 1890s, employers experimented with the 8-hour work day and found the total output per worker increasing. In the beginning of the 20th century, Frederick W. Taylor, the originator of ‘scientific management,’ decided to reduce work times and found remarkable increases in per-worker output.

Over a century later, a repeated experiment by the Harvard Business School found the same to be true.

“Predictable, required time off (like nights and weekends) actually made teams of consultants more productive,” according to Green Carmichael. “In sum, the story of overwork is literally a story of diminishing returns: keep overworking and you’ll progressively work more stupidly on tasks that are increasingly meaningless.”

Similarly to these findings, researchers have also found that cutting school down to only 4 days a week can improve academic performance. The same may actually be true for work-weeks as well.

It seems like all research is pointing in the same direction: working long hours, every day without much rest is not making better employees. Yet, we are still killing ourselves with 80+ hour work-weeks.

“It could be ignorance. Maybe most people just don’t know how bad overwork is, objectively speaking… Maybe they’ve seen the research, but just don’t buy it (or choose to act on it). Or it could be something stronger. Maybe when you combine economic incentives, authority figures and deep-seated psychological needs, you produce a cocktail that is simply too intoxicating to overcome,” says Green Carmichael.

But what is the answer? Perhaps we need to stop linking our existence so closely to our jobs. Maybe we need to stop defining ourselves through our work. Perhaps companies need to start valuing the life of their employees by valuing their health and well-being, allowing them to rest and live a life outside of work.

Quitting your job isn’t just the answer. Looking around me, watching colleges, solopreneurs, entrepreneurs, coaches, bloggers and even stay-at-home mommies, I find that over-working – not giving ourselves rest, not taking care of our physical and mental health, living for and defining ourselves by our work – is a norm that is killing us, even those outside of the traditional work environment.

Think about it. How many hours do you really work? How much do you define yourself by your work? How much rest do you allow yourself?

A societal change is needed. We need to start defining ourselves based on things outside of our work. We need to start working less. We need to start doing more things outside of work. We need to rest more. We need to value and take care of our physical and mental health better.

Are you in? How can you shift your life today? Share below.

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Kat Gal

Kat Gal

Kat Gál is a multi-passionate writer, world traveler, nomad, runner, and cat-person. She is a lifelong learner who lives outside of her comfort zones stretching her boundaries and discovering beauty around the world. She is a Certified Holistic Health and Life Coach who encourages others to embrace their unique authentic selves, follow their heart and find their own version of freedom in life.
Kat Gal
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