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When It Comes to Work Hours, Less Is More


A few weeks ago, The New York Times put Amazon’s work culture under the microscope . While many employees, both current and past, have chimed in since the article came out, we’re now finding time to turn the focus to our own work lives. Should we all strive to be as driven as Amazonians who love their 60-plus hour work weeks? Should we all keep the cube lights on into the wee hours to show how much we “care”? The answer, despite our best efforts to die at our desks, may be “Nope.”


(Photo Credit: reynermedia/Flickr)

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Just Because We Can (Doesn’t Mean We Should)

Some of the issues of this workplace dilemma come from the little helpful innovations that supposedly make us more productive. Email (vs. paper memos or letters), virtual meetings (vs. a brick-and-mortar workplace), and cellphones (vs. landlines) all help us cram as much work into our day as we can. On your way to a conference? You can work from the plane! Stuck in traffic? Get a little emailing in! On vacation? Bring that laptop and stay on top of your projects!

But, of course, these conveniences are terrible, too. We deserve downtime and we need breaks; plus, we have people who’d like to see our faces not in a screen every hour of every day. Being away from work (and not working) is healthy. It’s human.

Setting Expectations

There aren’t many workplaces that have adopted the motto “Work Smarter, Not Longer,” though there probably should be. It seems everywhere still expects the average cube worker to punch in and punch out just like they’re working 40 hours at the cracker factory. But since we have all these great technologies that are supposed to make our workday easier, shouldn’t we work fewer hours in the day?

The New Yorker recently brought up that way back in 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted Americans would someday become so efficient as to warrant a three-hour workday. Could you even imagine a 15-hour work week? Even vacation-happy European workplaces don’t go that low. So instead of being more productive and heading out after a few hours to, I don’t know, engage in the world outside the workplace, we’re given more work and more work and told we’re being “more productive” because we’re producing more and more … work for ourselves. See the problem?

The False Economy of Hours Worked

“Look busy, the boss is watching” isn’t a new concept. Breaking rocks or sitting at a keyboard, you still feel the need to look like you’re earning your wages. But when you produce thoughts and ideas, how can you quantify the work you’re doing?

For creatives like graphic designers and copywriters, there’s often “downtime” spent thinking before the ideas really start flowing. It’s not the same scale for someone, say, manning a hotel desk, but we’re all still clocking in and clocking out (so to speak) every day. If you’re at work even longer, say a 10- or 12-hour work day, are you really producing so much more work, or are you just looking like you’re more dedicated and productive than your co-workers?

The bottom line is that you should only be working more if it leads to better results for you and your employer. Depending on your corporate culture, that might mean putting in some face-time when you’d otherwise be better off at home, but resist the urge to make yourself a martyr. Document your accomplishments, keep the lines of communication open to your boss and co-workers, and go home as soon as you’re able. 

How much do you work?

Do you find yourself counting the hours? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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The Employment Lady
The Employment Lady

Hi Jake, I have to agree with you that 2 hrs. can be forever when you’re waiting for the day to end. However, it’s really all about pacing yourself. I used to use that ‘productive time’ to effectively do my reports — which was the one thing I hated to do– make calls to clients and managers to follow-up on projects maybe they have forgotten about or need a little push. Also to do research as well as planning for… Read more »


I work for a company that pays salary and we do 10 hour shifts daily. The pay is okay for 8 hour shifts, but for 10 hours i would say its pretty low. I believe we could produce the same amount of work in 8 hours than 10, we just slow ourselves down thinking we still have a long time left in the day and cram it all at the end of the day. I would say it just prepares… Read more »

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