Posted by: kerrywills | June 4, 2010

Is the 40 hour week a thing of the past?


Everyone that I talk to these days is overwhelmed with work. It seems that people these days have more work then ever before and are spending more time at work. I suspect this is part of being in a slumping economy where…

  • There are layoffs and the work spreads to the people left at the company
  • People can’t easily find other jobs (and if they do those jobs are probably just as busy)
  • Global competition and complexity of work has increased
  • Technology allows us to be ‘tethered’ to the office even when not at work (e.g. blackberrys)

"Back in my day, sunny, we walked to school uphill both ways but only worked a 40 hour week...."

I have worked through a few other economic cycles but don’t remember them being this impactful on work/life balance. Therefore I propose the question “is the 40 hour work week a thing of the past?” Now I have worked solid 50 hour weeks for most of my professional career but in the last year I have been averaging more like 65. But it is not just me – the entire team that I work with does too. Plus, I get e-mails all hours of the day and night so I know people are on later. It also seems that it has become expectations from senior management – I remember the days when people were asked if they could stay late and now a 5pm, 6pm or 7pm meeting is sent without regard.

Are others seeing or experiencing the same trends?

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Responses

  1. I guess, the grass can always seem greener on the other side!

  2. People in certain types of jobs put in extra hours. Info tech and management jobs are examples where other types of jobs do not. I think certain personalities are drawn to certain types of jobs and that the choice is ours which path we want to follow. Since we have a choice it’s all good.

  3. People work too much – I believe as employers, employees and self-employed, we all can all try harder to find balance between work and life. Time for YOU.I believe that 21hours could be the basic working week as opposed to the massive 40hours (or a lot more). It is too much and cannot be sustained for a lifetime. People are not machines.

    The Future of Work

    The moral basis for 21hours a week is upon the idea (I believe) that if living standards are improved (for example – time for leisure, health, good food, family etc.) that people will get by with less money. There may be some middle way between the existing system and an imposed 21 hour working week. Germany would entertain this idea at least as their culture is very family orientated (for instance – they do not open their shops on a Sunday so people who work in the retail sector do not have to work on this day). Here in Britain, on the other hand, this would never wash. We work the most hours in Europe.

    People live to work and I think this attitude can be traced back to, what Max Weber called ‘The Protestant work ethic’. This label is more relevant to the times in which this sociologist deemed it a phenomenon of industrial society (19th Century). But the idea of a ‘work ethic’ or a moral obligation to work oneself into the ground (in effect) with excessive hours of gainful employment dominates the culture of work.

    I work around 20hours a week and earn enough to get by. I like to have time to think. I have always been told that ‘time to think’ is a dangerous thing. I think this goes hand in hand with the notion that ‘the devil makes work for idle hands’.

  4. […] days it seems like there is way too much work to do (see 40 hour week blog post). Therefore as professionals and leaders, it is our job to look for ways to maximize the […]


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