It’s generally accepted in the United States that you need to work at least 40 hours a week if you want to get ahead in business. On the one hand, this does make sense. If you put in that much work, you’re bound to accomplish some great things, right? Well, that might not be the case according to some statistics.
In a recent comparison of national productivity statistics, it was found that German workers are 70 percent more productive than workers in Greece despite working an average of 600 fewer hours every year. A similar study found that a four-day workweek boosted productivity at Microsoft Japan by 40 percent. Clearly, there are benefits to working fewer hours every week, even though that seems to go against everything we’ve come to believe about work and productivity. We’ve all been taught that you need to work hard to be successful, which often translates into working long hours. Spending 40-plus hours on the job is seen as a badge of honor in the American business world. Still, this kind of nose-to-the-grindstone, burning-the-midnight-oil mentality also comes with a poor work-life balance, strained relationships with family and friends, poor health, and general dissatisfaction with one’s job.
No matter what you do, you’ll probably find successful people who think doing anything less than working to the point of exhaustion is a sign of weakness. Still, we have clear evidence that shorter workweeks might be beneficial to most employees. Someone who only works four days a week might not be spending as much time on the job, but that shouldn’t make a difference if they are just as productive as someone who regularly works 60 hours a week. That person who is “only” working four days a week will most likely be healthier and more well-rested, which could allow them to think more clearly and find better solutions for problems that might arise. They’ll also be able to spend more time with their family and friends, which will likely keep them happier and less likely to burn out. Those who still believe in working long hours might technically be doing more work than someone who enjoys regular half-days and three-day weekends. However, they’re more likely to feel exhausted and miserable, which will affect the quality of their work eventually.
Findings in the studies mentioned above might not necessarily mean that we will be moving away from the 40-hour workweek. After all, old habits die hard, especially since many successful business owners swear they got where they are by working long hours. Still, there’s something to be said for slowing down and recharging when we feel overworked. There should be no shame in working fewer hours, especially if you can still accomplish great things during that time.