A New Way to Work

Success and change without burnout by Dr. Geri Puleo

Is the 40-Hour Work Week a Distant Memory?

Cats before + after work - CartoonA full-time job in the U.S. traditionally consisted of a 40-hour work week and (with the exception of certain industries) working 9-to-5, Monday through Friday.  Weekends were then free for us to do whatever we wanted – generally things that were not work-related.

As we all know, things have changed…drastically.

According to a Gallup report released in Fall 2014, the average number of hours worked by full-time employees in the U.S. is now 47 hours.  In essence, we’ve expanded our 5-day work week into the equivalent of a 6-day week.

According to Gallup:

  • Only 8% of full-time employees work less than 40 hours
  • 42% work the traditional 40-hour work week
  • 11% work 41 to 49 hours
  • 21% work 50 to 59 hours
  • 18% work a whopping 60+ hours per week – that’s 1 out of every 5 employees!

Half of all full-time employees work over 40 hours each and every week.  Could this be a contributing factor to the high rate of burnout in the workplace?

Is There a Link Between Long Work Hours and Burnout?

Abraham Maslow explored the relationship between long work hours and the individual’s ability to self-actualize (or become the best that he or she could possibly be).  Although we traditionally think that the longer we work, the more likely we are to experience burnout, Maslow argued that this is not always the case.

Maslow found that our level of work-related enjoyment or job satisfaction is significantly related to feelings of happiness, esteem, and the ability to self-actualize.  In other words, if we love what we’re doing, then we don’t mind – and actually enjoy! – the number of hours that we spend doing that job.

Don’t believe me?  Think back to a time when you were fully engaged in an activity and time seemed to “fly by.”  It’s the same experience for people who love their work.

Although the 60-hour work week has long been correlated with a higher propensity to burnout, a new breed of professional seems to dispute this.  This “extreme job holder” is a high achieving, Type A personality who works outrageously long hours and is highly compensated – receiving “over the top” rewards for his or her efforts.  These workers are found in the top 6% of earners.

According to studies by the Center for Work-Life Policy and the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force, 56% of “extreme job holders” work 70 or more hours per week and 9% routinely work over 100 hours per week.

To be considered “extreme,” the job must require working more than 60 hours per week and also meet at least 5 of the following 10 criteria:

  1. Unpredictable flow of work
  2. Fast-paced work under tight deadlines
  3. Inordinate scope of responsibility that amounts to more than one job
  4. Work-related events outside regular work hours
  5. Availability to clients 24/7
  6. Responsibility for profit and loss
  7. Responsibility for mentoring and recruiting
  8. Large amount of travel
  9. Large number of direct reports
  10. Physical presence at workplace at least 10 hours per day

An interesting fact about “extreme job holders” is that they are not forced to work these outrageous hours.  In fact, 66% in the U.S. and 76% internationally work these long hours because they love what they are doing.

But this is definitely not the norm for most workers.  According to Gallup, only 13% of U.S. employees actually enjoys their work!

When you combine long hours spent on duties and responsibilities that you don’t enjoy, then this is a de facto recipe for burnout.

Should U.S. Companies Limit Employee Work Hours (or at Least Give More Paid Time Off)? 

Although extreme job holders seem to reflect Maslow’s concept of self-actualization, many workers are unwilling to sacrifice all other aspects of their lives to a job – especially if it’s a job that they don’t enjoy or one in which they are disrespected, demeaned, or demoralized.

Particularly for these individuals, a cap on the maximum number of hours that their employer can require them to work might be a way to help them avoid burnout.

As many as 134 countries currently have laws stipulating statutory maximum work weeks.  For example, the European Union recommends a 48-hour maximum work week and a minimum daily rest period of 11 hours.  France, Greece, Italy, U.K., the Netherlands, and others subscribe to this 48-hour maximum.

Some countries decreased this maximum even more.  The maximum work week statutes in Austria, Finland, Norway, Poland, and Portugal reduced the week to just 40 hours, while Belgium reduced its maximum work week to just 38 hours.

In marked contrast, the 40-hour work week typical in the U.S. relates only to the number of hours worked before overtime payments kick in for non-exempt workers.  However, there is no federal maximum on the number of hours that a company can require its employees to work.  In many cases, overtime is no longer optional, but mandatory.

In addition, the U.S. is the only developed nation that does not federally mandate paid vacations or even holidays for its workers.  While the average paid time off is only 2 weeks (or 10 work days) in the U.S., this number skyrockets to 20 to 30 days for most other countries.

Paid Vacation Bar Chart - International

Puleo’s Pointers:  Give Employees Time to Re-Energize

With burnout in epidemic proportions, it might be time for companies to take a hard look at the workloads that they are heaping on their employees.

Try putting a cap on the permitted number of hours that an employee (particularly those in the exempt salaried category) can work.  Also, require workers to take the paid time off that is due to them each year.  These can be valuable first steps to overcoming and eventually eradicating burnout in the workplace.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning company focused on techniques to eliminate the 5 workplace stressors that create and sustain burnout:  Job Change, Organizational Change, Work-Life Imbalance, Poor Leadership and Management, and Ineffective Human Resources.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, author, keynote speaker, blogger, career coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” in her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI.  For more tips and ideas, please subscribe to her weekly “Success @ Work” eNewsletter at https://drgeripuleo.lpages.co/success-work-opt-in-page.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

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