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Are You Working Harder, or Working Smarter?: Looking at the 40 Hour Work Week

Are You Working Harder, or Working Smarter?: Looking at the 40 Hour Work Week

    So many people talk about boosting productivity, and making the most of their 40 hour work weeks. And yet, outside of the United States, not every country adheres to the “standard” 40 hour work week…which begs the question: should we be working harder, or working smarter?

    The History of 40 Hour Work Week (And the 8 Hour Work Day)

    As most people know, the 40 hour work week (and 8 hour day) both have their roots in the industrial revolution, when labor reformists began to push for shorter hours. At the turn of the 19th century, it wasn’t uncommon for some factory workers to be on the job for 16 hours a day, and so the 8 hour work day was quite a relief indeed. While some advances were made during the 1800s by workers who wanted shorter days, the 8 hour work day wasn’t widespread on a global scale until the first half of the 20th century.

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    In fact, it wasn’t until the International Labor Organization held its first conference in 1919 that the 8- or 9-hour work day was somewhat firmly established. In 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed into law. This established the five-day, 40-hour work week as the American standard for working hours.

    Criticisms of the 40 Hour Work Week

    MIT’s Eric Rauch noted in his paper “Productivity and the Workweek” that “An average worker needs to work a mere 11 hours per week to produce as much as one working 40 hours in 1950.” Additionally, “polls and surveys have shown that people in countries with the standard of living that the US enjoyed in the 1950s are no less satisfied than today’s Americans.”

    Elsewhere in the US, some states are switching from a 5 day week to a 4 day week. For example, Iowa’s state employees made just such a move in order to cut energy costs, as have Hawaii and Washington state.

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    One 2010 study actually proposed that a 21 hour workweek might be the best of all. According to the UK’s New Economics Foundation, “A much shorter working week could help to tackle a range of urgent and closely related problems: overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life. It would enable many more people to join the workforce and allow for measures to reduce damaging levels of inequality….We’d have more time to be better parents, better citizens, better carers and better neighbours. And we could even become better employees: less stressed, more in control, happier in our jobs and more productive.”

    Compared to Other Countries

    Looking at other countries around the globe, it’s clear to see that the 40 hour work week is anything but standard.

    For example, the average work week in South Korea is 44 hours, while France has a law that states that 35 hours per week is the maximum allowable. European Union member countries have all agreed to cap the maximum hours worked per week to no more than 48. The work week in the Netherlands and Norway is 27 hours long, while workers in Australia and New Zealand work an averages of 33-34 hours per week.

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    Conclusion: Work-Life Balance

    More and more, those Americans who are still employed are working longer hours, either to stay in the good graces of their bosses, or because they are overwhelmed by increased workloads due to layoffs. Either way, it seems like many Americans are working long hours to endear themselves to corporate supervisors, without guaranteeing additional job security.

    According to Forbes, “To get ahead, a 70-hour work week is the new standard…Just how bad have things gotten? 1.7 million people consider their jobs and their work hours extreme, thanks to globalization, BlackBerries, corporate expectations and their own Type A personalities.” In fact, some experts say that a BlackBerry can extend your working week by as much as 15 hours.

    That data is backed up by a similar study conducted by the International Labour Organization, which found that “one in five workers around the world – or over 600 million persons – are still working more than 48 hours a week, often merely to make ends meet…an estimated 22 per cent of the global workforce, or 614.2 million workers, are working “excessively” long hours.”

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    While many Americans are just happy to have a job, it seems that during a recession, it is even more important to work smarter, not harder. Long hours do not always equal greater productivity, and indeed it seems that working excessive hours can actually diminish productivity and quality…which is a problem that will affect both the worker and the employer equally.

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    Tucker Cummings

    Writer and social media professional sharing productivity tips on Lifehack.

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    Last Updated on December 2, 2019

    10 Powerful Ways to Stop Worrying and Start Living Today

    10 Powerful Ways to Stop Worrying and Start Living Today

    Plato knew that the body and mind are intimately linked. And in the late 1800s, the Mayo brothers, famous physicians, estimated that over half of all hospital beds are filled with people suffering from frustration, anxiety, worry and despair. Causes of worry are everywhere, in our relationships and our jobs, so it’s key we find ways to take charge of the stress.

    In his classic book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie offers tools to ditch excessive worrying that help you make a worry-free environment for your private and professional life.

    These are the top 10 tips to grab worry by the horns and wrestle it to the ground:

    1. Make Your Decision and Never Look Back

    Have you ever made a decision in life only to second-guess it afterwards? Of course you have! It’s hard not to wonder whether you’ve done the right thing and whether there might still be time to take another path.

    But keep this in mind: you’ve already made your decision, so act decisively on it and dismiss all your anxiety about it.

    Don’t stop to hesitate, to reconsider, or to retrace your steps. Once you’ve chosen a course of action, stick to it and never waver.

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    2. Live for Today, Package Things up in “Day-Tight Compartments”

    You know that feeling: tossing, turning and worrying over something that happened or something that might, well into the wee hours. To avoid this pointless worrying, you need “day-tight compartments”. Much as a ship has different watertight compartments, your own “day-tight” ones are a way to limit your attention to the present day.

    The rule is simple: whatever happened in the past or might happen in the future must not intrude upon today. Everything else has to wait its turn for tomorrow’s box or stay stuck in the past.

    3. Embrace the Worst-Case Scenario and Strategize to Offset It

    If you’re worried about something, ask yourself: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Could you lose your job? Be jailed? Get killed?

    Whatever the “worst” might be, it’s probably not so world-ending. You could probably even bounce back from it!

    If, for example, you lose your job, you could always find another. Once you accept the worst-case scenario and get thinking about contingency plans, you’ll feel calmer.

    4. Put a Lid on Your Worrying

    Sometimes we stress endlessly about negative experiences when just walking away from them would serve us far better.

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    To make squashing that worry easier, try this strategy, straight from stock traders: it’s called the “stop-loss” order, where shares are bought at a certain price, and then their price development is observed. If things go badly and the share price hits a certain point, they are sold off immediately. This stops the loss from increasing further.

    In the same manner, you can put a stop-loss order on things that cause you stress and grief.

    5. Fake It ‘Til You Make It – Happiness, That Is

    We can’t directly influence how we feel, but we can nudge ourselves to change through how we think and act.

    If you’re feeling sad or low, slap a big grin on your face and whistle a chipper tune. You’ll find it impossible to be blue when acting cheerful. But you don’t necessarily need to act outwardly happy; you can simply think happier thoughts instead.

    Marcus Aurelius summed it up aptly:

    “Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

    6. Give for the Joy of Giving

    When we perform acts of kindness, we often do so with the expectation of gratitude. But harboring such expectations will probably leave you disappointed.

    One person well aware of this fact was the lawyer Samuel Leibowitz. Over the course of his career, Leibowitz saved 78 people from going to the electric chair. Guess how many thanked him? None.

    So stop expecting gratitude when you’re kind to someone. Instead, take joy from the act yourself.

    7. Dump Envy – Enjoy Being Uniquely You

    Your genes are completely unique. Even if someone had the same parents as you, the likelihood of someone identical to you being born is just one in 300,000 billion.

    Despite this amazing fact, many of us long to be someone else, thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. But living your life this way is pointless. Embrace your uniqueness and get comfortable with who you really are: How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

    8. Haters Will Hate — It Just Means You’re Doing It Right

    When you’re criticized, it often means you’re accomplishing something noteworthy. In fact, let’s take it a step further and consider this: the more you’re criticized, the more influential and important a person you likely are.

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    So the next time somebody talks you down, don’t let it get to you. Take it as a compliment!

    9. Chill Out! Learn to Rest Before You Get Tired

    Scientists agree that emotions are the most common cause of fatigue. And it works the other way around, too: fatigue produces more worries and negative emotions.

    It should be clear, therefore, that you’ve got to relax regularly before you feel tired. Otherwise, worries and fatigue will accumulate on top of each other.

    It’s impossible to worry when you are relaxed, and regular rest helps you maintain your ability to work effectively.

    10. Get Organized and Enjoy Your Work

    There are few greater sources of misery in life than having to work, day in, day out, in a job you despise. It would make sense then that you shouldn’t pick a job you hate, or even just dislike doing.

    But say you already have a job. How can you make it more enjoyable and worry-free? One way is to stay organized: a desk full of unanswered mails and memos is sure to breed worries.

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    Better yet, rethink about the job you’re doing: What to Do When You Hate Your Job but Want a Successful Career

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    Featured photo credit: Tyler Nix via unsplash.com

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