Every business owner wants employees who are enthusiastic, efficient, and productive. The go-getters who are engaged in their work are often praised for their efforts.

In many fields, working long hours is expected. Some employees may even talk about “burning the midnight oil,” often. They make sure their boss knows they are staying late because that is what is needed to “get results” for the company. Is working longer hours really leading to the kinds of results that employees (and their employers) are hoping to achieve?

Average Work Week Includes Overtime for Many

A study published by the International Labor Organization compared 13 countries and the average number of hours an employee works. Canada was at the top of the list with 62.1 hours per week. Denmark and Sweden were next with 60.8 hours per week followed closely by Norway with 60.3. The United States averages 59.4 and then the hours start to drop quickly with the last being Belgium at 45.9. This data offers a fairly reliable picture of working hours since it has been collected since the 1950s.

COVID-19 Has Made Long Hours Seem Normal

For many of us, this information comes as no surprise. The pandemic has made long hours the norm, with endless rounds of video calls intruding upon the very last vestiges of personal time. Because most of us are working from home, nobody thinks twice about calling after hours.

Additionally, the personal time and favorite activities we cherished pre-pandemic have all but been eroded. Dinner and a movie? Nope, theaters are closed, and restaurants may be, too. How about going to watch a baseball game or attend a play? They are closed, too.

We’re staying at home, working from home, and many of us are losing what little free time we once guarded. Working longer and harder than ever before, one might expect that businesses would experience booming growth. Productivity should be up, right?

Not so fast …

Long Hours Don’t Mean Increased Productivity

The surprising fact is that spending more time at work does not equal increased productivity.

Like the study cited above, the impact of working hours on productivity has also been studied for many decades. Since the 1930s and 40s, when labor unions were organizing nationwide in the USA, numerous studies found the same thing: employees do not show additional productivity when working more than 40 hours.

Thanks in part to these studies, the notion of the 40-hour work week developed. Increasing the work week from 40 to 60 hours per week didn’t result in much additional productivity. With an increase of 20 hours over the 40-hour workweek, companies achieved, at best, a 25% increase.

Smartphones Stretch Work Week Past 40 Hours

It took unions almost 200 years to make a 40-hour work week the standard, but it took less than 5 years for the ubiquitous smartphone and its intrusiveness to become the norm. As a result, some experts believe Americans now work the equivalent of five additional weeks per year compared to 1979.

We’re sleep deprived, glued to our screens, and missing out on a lot … for, at best, a 25% increase in productivity. This doesn’t seem like a good trade off.

However, bucking the workaholic trend may be harder than you think. Those who choose to consciously limit smartphone time or set strict working hours may appear to be less competitive or dedicated to their jobs than others. As a result, even those who would highly value setting stronger boundaries between work and home find themselves carried along with the workaholic tide.

Want More Productivity? Allow Employees to Have Better Work/Life Balance

According to the Corporate Executive Board, in a study of 50,000 global workers, employees who believe they have better work-life balance tend to work 21% more effectively than those who don’t (even though they work more hours).

Employers need to take the concept of work-life balance seriously. Employee productivity clearly suffers beyond a certain number of working hours, but employees suffer physically, mentally, and emotionally, too. Those who spend too much time at work tend to die younger from heart attacks. Being distracted by work and disengaged from family life can lead to problems with children, higher divorce rates, and higher rates of depression.

To improve employee productivity, help your staff achieve better work-life balance. Not only will they be more productive, but they will also be more satisfied with their jobs, healthier, and happier. That’s a win-win for any company.

ASI is South Carolina’s leading source for accounting and ERP software solutions for businesses of all sizes. Our team of experts can meet with you personally or over the phone to discuss your options in detail. Contact us today for your free consultation.