80 years ago, long working hours seemed to be on the decline, with ideas like the six-hour work day being floated. Now, that trend has reversed — and so has the way we think about them.
The New Yorker has a look at the way long working hours have become more accepted, and even sometimes a point of pride:
Thirty years ago, the best-paid workers in the U.S. were much less likely to work long days than low-paid workers were. By 2006, the best paid were twice as likely to work long hours as the poorly paid, and the trend seems to be accelerating. A 2008 Harvard Business School survey of a thousand professionals found that ninety-four per cent worked fifty hours or more a week, and almost half worked in excess of sixty-five hours a week. Overwork has become a credential of prosperity.
Of course, the trend towards overwork is not limited to just the best-paid workers; McDonald's, for instance, infamously advised their full-time staff to pick up a second job. But the trend could be bad news across the board:
The perplexing thing about the cult of overwork is that, as we've known for a while, long hours diminish both productivity and quality. Among industrial workers, overtime raises the rate of mistakes and safety mishaps; likewise, for knowledge workers fatigue and sleep-deprivation make it hard to perform at a high cognitive level. As Solomon put it, past a certain point overworked people become "less efficient and less effective." And the effects are cumulative. The bankers Michel studied started to break down in their fourth year on the job. They suffered from depression, anxiety, and immune-system problems, and performance reviews showed that their creativity and judgment declined.
So, what do you think? Are longer hours encouraged in your workplace? Should they be? Give us your take in the comments.
Image: 1940s lathe operator / Howard R Hollem.