Time to Nix the 40-Hour Work Week?

Jun 24, 2014 | Marketing, Nurture, Work life

40 hour work week job sizingHow many hours do you work in a week? Most likely at least 40 considering many businesses have the standard 8-hour working time with a half hour to an hour extra for lunch. This could be 7 am to 4 pm, 8 am to 5 pm, 9 am to 6 pm, or somewhere in between. Who takes a full hour for lunch? 10 minutes? Are you even away from your desk? And do you really only work 8 hours in a day?

With computers and devices connected 24/7, most of us don’t work 40 hours. Working more than 40 hours a week has even become a badge of honor. Or has it? One of my colleagues admitted that in the first years of her career, she’d stay in the office later in hopes it would win points with the boss. It never did. Raises and promotions didn’t come faster either.

The start of the 40-hour work week

So where did the 40-hour work week come from? According to “Bring back the 40-hour work week,” Henry Ford set up eight-hour shifts at his plants in 1914. He did it because research showed productivity peaked after eight hours. Simply put, the longer you work past eight hours, the slower and less effective you become.

In “Why Working More Than 40 Hours a Week is Useless,” Jessica Stillman writes, “On average, you get no more widgets out of a 10-hour day than you do out of an eight-hour day.” By the time Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal came out in the 1930s, decades of studies and data led to the 40-hour work week becoming standard.

A look at research

Let’s put this in perspective. How would you react if you see a surgeon or a pilot drunkenly stumble on their way to the operating room or airplane? You’d want him or her to go home and recover, right? Nelson B. Powell, DDS, MD, co-director of the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Center, has found that the performance level of the sleep-deprived matched those who have blood alcohol in their systems.

Powell’s study compared people who have sleep apnea with those who slept well for three nights. Researchers took a baseline of those in the latter group. Then, they had well-rested group drink alcohol, stopping at three different set blood alcohol levels.

The researchers compared the two groups on seven measures. The sleep apnea group performed as bad as or worse than the legally drunk group on three measures. This is just one study. Search for others and you’ll find more with similar findings.

Doesn’t it make more sense to check out of the office on time, enjoy your time after work, get a good night’s rest, and return the next day fully charged ready to put in a solid day’s work? This as opposed to stretching your days to more than eight hours, constantly tired because you rush home to do your personal tasks that eat into your critical sleep time.

Why do we need a 40-hour work week?

Research shows that working more than 40 hours doesn’t make sense. But what about the “standard” 40-hour work week? Do most jobs really take 40 hours per week to do? Maybe not.

What if we were to size jobs differently?

Suppose we said a “job” was 20 hours a week …

As an employer or project manager, when you change your approach to size jobs based on your current needs you gain access to a large, talented workforce whose needs are not met by 40-hour work week jobs. You save money when you build a pool of high quality, loyal talent and tap into their services when you need it.

A full-time, 40-work week experienced marketer could earn $60,000 per year (rates differ by location, etc.). Some projects may not take 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year (taking a standard two weeks for vacation). A small business may not need a full-time employee to do marketing. A $60K annual salary equals $1,154 per week or $28 per hour. That doesn’t include benefits, such as insurance, 401K, paid vacation and sick days.

But what if you only need marketing services for an average of 10 hours a week? Instead, you could hire a highly qualified marketer who charges $50 an hour.  It costs you $25K per year and zero for benefits. This is less than half the cost of a full-time employee with benefits. Even someone with a $100 per hour rate can be cheaper than a full-time employee.

People who work the hours that best fit their needs are happier. Happier workers mean better quality deliverables. They’re hired to deliver exactly what you need without wasting a single second.

Maybe we should reconsider the 40-hour work week, and start thinking about what exactly needs doing and how long it takes to get it done.

Who else should read this? Please share!

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