40-hour Workweek: ‘a Fairytale’?

Hours in a typical work week // source: Sonja Langford

Work has always been an important part of our lives.

Yet research shows that job related activities are taking over more and more of our waking hours.

Typical discussions about the workweek / source: DilbertBlog
Typical discussions about the workweek / source: DilbertBlog

‘9-5’: An Outdated Paradigm

40 hours are widely regarded as a standard workweek and is frequently used as a standard threshold for federal laws like the Affordable Care Act.

Recent research of the U.S. working population has shown the following:

  • 50% full-time employees work more than 40 hours/week
  • 39% say they work 50+ hours/week

The concept of regular business hours has changed in the past years.

3 Drivers of a Longer Workweek

Research suggests that longer workweeks are not a phenomenon of a particular sub group of workers but rather a general trend in the U.S. labor market.

#1: Need to Work Multiple Jobs

More than 7 million U.S. citizens – mainly members of low-income households – need to take on multiple jobs for a variety of reasons (i.e. meet regular houshold expenses; pay off debt; etc.).

Working different jobs frequently accumulate more than 40 hours a week.

#2: Modern Team Communication – Blessing & Curse

Email or more personal ‘chat interfaces’ give employees a sense of connectedness with the organization.

Some applications are so popular that employees felt they are blurring the line between work and life.

Team communciation after work // source: own screenshot
Team communciation after work // source: own screenshot

Companies like Slack are addressing this issue via ‘considerate product design ‘ yet it seems to be a cultural problem in the employing organizations.

#3: Own Work Schedules

The promise of the gig-economy is better earning potential at a flexible schedule.

Many workers opt into this type of work but then have to work on multiple services more than 40 hours/week to make the economics work in their favor.


40 hours/week are a set standard that originated many decades ago.  It is a fact that a large chunk of the U.S. workforce is working more than the average amount of hours.

Employees have the right for a balance between the hours they put into the labor market and the benefits ([health care] insurance; 401k; child care; paid overtime; etc.) they get in return.

Possible Scenarios for Policy Makers:

  • Incentivizing/penalizing employers to push for the 40 hour benchmark
  • Adjusting federal/local policies to match and support new reality of longer work

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1 thought on “40-hour Workweek: ‘a Fairytale’?”

  1. Pingback: Tuesday Digestif (44/2015): 40-hour week is outdated

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