The rise in the average working hours: contributing factors - Deepstash

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Researchers said we'd only need to work 15 hours/week. What happened?

The rise in the average working hours: contributing factors

The rise in average working hours a week can be related to three serious issues:

  • We celebrate "being busy."
  • We worry about losing our jobs in the current economic climate.
  • We use devices that make us always on.

The rise of knowledge work has led to jobs with less structure, more demands, and higher pressure to be productive.

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Researchers said we'd only need to work 15 hours/week. What happened?

Researchers said we'd only need to work 15 hours/week. What happened?

https://blog.rescuetime.com/how-many-hours-should-we-work/

blog.rescuetime.com

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Key Ideas

Past predictions about the average working hours

Nearly a century ago, British economist John Keynes predicted this generation would only work 15 hours a week.

In 1890, workers worked an average of 60 hours per week. By 1890, the average working hours dropped to 37. However, by the 1970s, the downward trend of working hours had turned around, and today, American workers average 47 work hours in a week.

The rise in the average working hours: contributing factors

The rise in average working hours a week can be related to three serious issues:

  • We celebrate "being busy."
  • We worry about losing our jobs in the current economic climate.
  • We use devices that make us always on.

The rise of knowledge work has led to jobs with less structure, more demands, and higher pressure to be productive.

Overworking leads to decreased productivity

Studies show that working more hours increases productivity up a point; after that, the law of diminishing returns sets in. That point is around 49 hours per week.

Research shows overworked employees have an increased risk of fatigue, general poor health, and cardiovascular disease. Another study showed that managers couldn't tell which employees worked 80 hours per week and who just pretended to.

Opting for shorter working hours

Working shorter hours, such as the 4-day work week or the 6-hour workday, is not always the solution, since it could only work for certain industries.

A six-hour workday would be effective for industries such as hospitals but less effective where the borders between work and private life are blurred.

Opting for flexible working hours

Instead of asking how many hours to work, smart businesses consider what the best hours are for their team to be working. Flexibility in working hours allows employees to choose working hours that suit their mental peaks and their lifestyle.

According to research, most people are only productive for 4-5 hours a day. With flexibility, you can create daily schedules that work for you. Research shows that employees working flexible hours show greater job satisfaction and commitment to their companies.

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Early times

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From factories to cubicles to WiFi

Just after WW2, there was a rise in corporate headquarters and larger office spaces and cubicles. During this time, the 8-hour workday was established.

Then came the advancements in computers and technology that lead to remote workers of today. The internet and public WiFi allowed employees to do everything they would in their cubicle, but outside the office. They can also work all hours of the day.

Remote work is common

4.3 million people currently work from home in the United States at least half of the time, and this figure has grown by 150% in the last 13 years.  

Remote workers tend to have higher engagement rates and higher productivity levels. Once they switch to remote work, they rarely want to become office bound again.

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Challenges In Remote Working

Remote working is not without its challenges, with many feeling isolated and unmotivated, being left on their own.

Communication is trickier with colleagues and bosses, and there is a general lack of transparency and chances of overworking.

Tools Of A Good Remote Worker
  • Being Tech Savvy: A Good PC/Laptop, the latest tools and software for the job, and a reliable internet connection are a must for most remote working profiles.
  • Good Communication Skills: Most of the communication will be written, and one should be able to articulate complex concepts and subtleties while being concise. This link provides a handy guide.

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Our culture of work

Our culture claims that work is unavoidable and natural. The idea that the world can be freed from work, wholly or in part, has been suppressed for as long as capitalism has existed.

Exploring the abolition of work
  • In 1885, socialist William Morris proposed that in the factories of the future, employees should work only four hours a day.
  • In 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that advances in technology would lead to an age of leisure where people might work 15 hours a week.
  • Since the early 2010s, these ideas have been developed further, creating a growing critique of work as an ideology, and exploring alternatives to work.
  • Post-work offers enormous promises: In a life of much less work, life would be calmer, more equal, more communal, more pleasurable, more thoughtful, more politically engaged, more fulfilled.
Work ideology

The work ideology is not natural nor very old.

  • Before the modern era, all cultures thought of work as a means to an end, not an end in itself.
  • Once the modern work ethic was established, working patterns started to shift. Between 1800 and 1900, the average working week shrank from 80 hours to 60 hours, and in the 1970s to roughly 40 hours.
  • In 1979, Bernard Lefkowitz related in his book that people who had given up their jobs reported feelings of "wholeness." During the same period, because wages were high enough, it became possible for most people to work less.
  • During the 80s, work ideology was reimposed by aggressively pro-business governments who were motivated by a desire for social control.
  • By the early 21st century, the work culture seems inescapable.

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    The Right Amount Of Work

    The World Health Organization(WHO) recently recognized the symptoms of workplace burnout, with too much work wreaking havoc on our mental health, all across the world.

    Surprisingly, not work...

    Eight Hours A Week

    An extensive study shows that just eight hours a week is enough for the average worker to generate significant mental health and well-being benefits.


    Working between one to eight hours per week resulted in decreased risk of mental health issues, especially among people recently unemployed.


    Working has some intangible benefits, called psychological vitamins, like social contact, structured routine, shared goals, enforced activity, variety and a sense of identity. Spending more time at work does not lead to an increase in the benefits.

    Meaningful productivity

    The best work happens in short intensive deep work spurts (1–3 hours, no distractions). 

    Your best thinking  will actually happen while you’re away from your work, “recovering.” B...

    The first 3 hours of the day

    ...are your most precious for maximized productivity. 

    Your brain is most attuned first thing in the morning, and so are your energy levels. Consequently, the best time to do your best work is during this time.

    The “90–90–1” rule

    Spend the first 90 minutes of your workday on your #1 priority, nothing else. 

    Zero distractions. Just get that work done.

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    Asynchronous communication

    There are mainly two ways to communicate within a company: synchronous and asynchronous communication. While the second type has always been widely practiced, as face-to-face meetings or any other ...

    Real-time communication drawbacks

    While real-time communication inside of a team might lead to solving faster some issues, it also has various disadvantages. 

    For instance, having your colleagues come to ask you questions to which you feel pressured to answer on the spot leads to you being continuously interrupted, which results in being less productive and feeling stressed or even getting a burnout, as you try to do everything in proper time.

    The asynchronous workplace

    When the employees are provided with control as to when they are willing to communicate with their co-workers, there are many advantages that emerge. 

    For instance, having the freedom to decide exactly how your working day should look like leads to more satisfied employees as well as to better communication within the team. Further benefits vary from feeling less stressed due to better planning to greater transparency and more efficient work.

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    Why we don't take time off

    • We think more work should equal more output: we see productivity not as doing more with less. But simply doing more.
    • We’re afraid of being “left behind”:  not only could we miss out on some important conversation, but we worry that we’ll be left behind.
    • Work has become a larger part of our identity: we feel personally connected to the work we do. Taking time away opens up all sorts of questions that can be hard to face. 

    Deliberate rest

    It is a play on the term “deliberate practice” and it means engaging with restful activities that are often vigorous and mentally engaging.

    It is not a continuation of work, but a way to find activities that let you recharge from your workday, while still being mentally productive.

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    The Flow State

    Flow happens when we hit a rhythm and our work hums optimally; when we find "the zone" of productivity. It’s a state that’s easily disrupted by distractions but can be achieved and sustained...

    Tactics To Get Into Flow
    • Separate some time to deep pursuits and leave the rest open to everything else. Channel your inner monastic for a limited stretch of time. Afterwards, return to regular accessibility.
    • Remove the obstacles of “when” and “where” by setting a time and a place for deep work, and making it a habit.
    • When you need to do deep work on demand: fit it into your schedule whenever you can. Developing the ability to "switch on" your deep work muscles is less challenging than dedicating the free time to purposeful work.
    Cut out low-value activities

    Many of us are working longer hours than we should be just because we are wasting time on low-value activities.

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    Schedule recurring social activities

    Having an active social life is crucial to your health. People who isolate themselves from others could increase their risk of death by about 50 percent. 

    If you have a busy life, schedule recurring social activities with your closest friends, monthly.  Plan your work schedule around your social calendar instead of the other way around.

    Learn to cope with stress

    The key to finding the balance between work and health is learning how to cope with stress.

    Get in the habit of stepping away from the stressful situation for a few moments to calm down and collect your thoughts: step away from the computer or spend a few minutes walking outside.