Q: How long is the ideal workweek?
A: Shorter than you think.
If you find yourself dragging yourself to the office, only to snap at clients and colleagues after you arrive, or have become dissatisfied with your work (even successes!) with little to no energy to finish projects, you might be burned out. Mayo Clinic defines job burnout as
“a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.”
For those who struggle to maintain a reasonable balance between work and fun, job burnout is a real problem. Trying to be “everything to everyone” can contribute to insomnia, fatigue, anxiety and depression. Unclear expectations, dysfunctional workplace dynamics and work-life imbalance can be to blame.
The eight-hour workweek was aimed at maximizing production and getting the most out of workers to continually fuel business. Thanks to the efforts of Robert Owen, the day was divided into three eight-hour segments: one for work, another for recreation, the last for rest. Henry Ford followed in Owen’s footsteps: by implementing an eight-hour workday and incentivizing staff with fare pay, his company blossomed.
But over time, the standard eight-hour workday has evolved into a competition between fast-track minded colleagues. Workers now compete for spending the most hours in the office as a sign of dedication or commitment. It’s not a big surprise that fatigue is rampant in the workplace (Ricci, 2007).
John Pencaval (2014) found that anything over a fifty-hour workweek contributes to not only burn out but accident and injury. By studying workers’ productivity, labor and hours spent at work, Pencaval identified why going home early from work can be better: the more time spent at work, the less work is done.
Over 10,000 workers were analyzed between 1987 and 2000 and here are the reasons to go home early from work: those who clocked in at least twelve hours a day had considerable more injuries than other workers, Nurses who worked more than forty-hour workweeks showed more errors in patient diagnoses (Rogers et al 2004), medical interns were significantly more likely to get in a car crash after leaving overtime shifts (Barger et al 2005).
Consider setting boundaries with your employer to ensure your performance is optimal. Discuss your concerns with a manager or appropriate colleague if you feel burned out and take precautions to ensure you have quality time away from work in order to relax, recharge, and renew. Your co-workers will thank you for it.
Barger, Laura K., Brian E. Cade, Najib T. Ayas, John W. Cronin, Bernard Rosner, Frank Speizer, Charles A. Czeisier (2005). “Extended Work Shifts and the Risk of Motor Vehicle Crashes among Interns”, New England Journal of Medicine, 2005, 352 (2), pages 125-34.
Dembe, A.E., J.B.Erickson, R.G.Delbos, and S.M. Banks (2005). “The Impact of Overtime and Long Work Hours on Occupational Injuries and Illnesses; New Evidence from the United States”, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 62 (9), pages 588-97.
Ricci, Judith A., Elsbeth Chee, Amy L. Lorandeau, and Jan Berger (2007). “Fatigue in the U.S. Workforce: Prevalence and Implications for Lost Productive Work Time”, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 49 (1), pages 1-10.
Rogers, Ann E., Wei-Ting Hwang, Linda D. Scott, Linda H. Aiken, and David F. Dinges. (2004). “The Working Hours of Hospital Staff Nurses and Patient Safety”, Health Affairs, 23(4), pages 202-12.