Have you ever worked more than 40 hours in one week? Most people have and their bosses probably thanked them for their hard work. Your boss might think you’re doing a good job, but the majority of new research says the exact opposite.
Take for example, a man named Lee from South Korea. Lee is a government employee. He gets up every day at 5:30 a.m. to start his two-hour commute to work. Lee spends all day sitting at his computer until he finishes work at 9 p.m. and begins his two-hour commute home. Once Lee gets home and finishes dinner, he has four hours to sleep before he has to get up and do it all over again, six days per week. Lee works over 80 hours a week and gets only three days of vacation per year.
Lee is an extreme example, but his work schedule and level of stress are exactly what new studies have been talking about. Some people believe that 40 hours per week is the sweet spot for productivity. Adding 20 extra hours per week only adds a small boost in productivity. That small boost is only temporary, and after a few weeks of working long hours, concentration decreases, and people make more mistakes that take more time to fix. This is called negative productivity.
If that’s the case, then why do so many countries require overtime from their workers? For people like Lee in South Korea, and even Americans, it can be cultural. It is ingrained in the culture to work long hours, and performance is judged on how long you work. It doesn’t always mean the best productivity though.
In Germany, the average worker will work 394 hours less than an American worker per year. That’s 10 weeks fewer. Germany is a smaller country in size and population than America and has fewer resources. Still, with less work, Germany manages to be the world’s fourth largest economy and the biggest economy in Europe.
While that is only one example, it just goes to show working more hours doesn’t equal more productivity. And of course, productivity at work does not equal life happiness. In one city in Sweden, a government office is experimenting with 6-hour workdays and 30-hour workweeks. They are hoping to see that their workers are more rested, happier, healthier and more productive by working less. What about you? What kind of work hours would make you the happiest and the most productive?