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Is The 40 Hour Work Week Gone?

April 6, 2015

If I am anything, which I highly doubt, I have made myself so by hard work. - Sir Isaac Newton

There’s a fine line between working hard and burning out. Many people around the country are compensated based on a 40-hour work week. Unfortunately, a majority of Americans work well over 40 hours a week according to this Gallup poll. So is the 40-hour work week gone for good? We asked some of our experts to see what their take was.

Is it unreasonable to want a healthy work/life balance, and if a job is lacking balance, to at least be compensated appropriately for the strenuous work?

Nell, from Pitney Bowes, said this, “No, [it’s] not unreasonable to want that. There are many companies who value work life balance. I do not think that you will have a hard time finding a job at around 35K a year that gives you that balance. Will there be busy times, yes of course, you may pull overtime several times of the year, but working 65 hours a week all the time is very demanding…”

It’s vital to keep in mind that even the most work/life balanced jobs will inevitably have busy seasons where you’ll be asked to work more than the standard work hours. Where it becomes toxic is when that busy season seems to last all year. A work/life balance is not only vital to maintaining the quality of your work, but also to ensure your mental and physical wellbeing.

Do companies actually expect their employees to always be ‘on call’?

When expectations go unexpressed in any relationship, bad things happen. Communicating with your supervisor about what’s appropriate in regards to working outside of normal hours is an important part of any career. If the pace is too fast over an extended period of time, don’t be afraid to have an open and honest conversation about how your current workload seems to be a lot. You may discover this is, unfortunately, the normal pace at that company. Or, you may help your supervisor realize the workload was not appropriately tasked.

Kit, from Textron, offered these thoughts, “Realistically, no one truly expects anyone to be “on call” 24/7 – it is something that you will have to learn to manage along with your manager. Discuss expectations with your manager because he/she will provide some guidance on the matter. Learn how to manage those expectations from others and most of all – from yourself. Does it make sense to [work] periodically, yes, but if it’s not urgent, there is no reason why it can’t wait until regular working hours.”

If a company has a poor work/life balance, does that indicate they’re a bad company overall?

An expert from Caterpillar, Steve, said this, “Most highly successful companies realize that the most productive workers are those who have this balance.  Their high productivity stems from their loyalty and dedication to the company, which is built through an environment that values and strong work/life balance.  As to how you can find these companies, it starts with research. 

I recommend going to the web site GlassDoor.com and reading through the reviews that employees provide on companies.  This can give you a good idea of what companies truly value a good balance.  Of course, there may be times when conditions require you to work long hours occasionally, but this should be the exception versus the rule.  You will find that this is the case in most successful organizations.”

While a disregard for work/life balance doesn’t necessarily mean the company is rotten, it is a good indicator that there is a sickness in that company's culture. Many corporations take a ‘work hard, party hard’ approach as well. If the company is too tightly wound, it rarely bodes well for future success and measures are taken in an attempt to relieve stress and anxiety.

So, while the 40-hour work week may be an increasingly rare reality, it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth fighting for. It’s absolutely vital for your productivity and your sanity that you find at least a sustainable pace for the career. Learn when your busy seasons are and, inevitably, there will likely be some slow seasons too. Just make sure you find personal time because it will surely improve your performance at work.

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