Blog, Minimalism

The long hours work week

Why do we put so much emphasis on working longer and longer hours?

Here in the UK, there’s a law that says that no one should have to work over 48 hours a week unless they choose to. This sounds like a good rule, but in reality many jobs expect way more than this, with workers feeling they have to stay longer and longer, ‘choosing’ this for themselves, under pressure from the culture of the company or sector. We hear about public sector workers drowning under endless paperwork, spending their days off, evenings and weekends working just to complete their workload. Many retail staff are expected to work for time in lieu or just unpaid to ensure their store is ready for the next day. Bankers, lawyers, traders…the list goes on. It’s seen as a prestige to work longer hours. Who’s going to leave the office first?

It makes me wonder. Why do we place so much value on being seen to work so hard? Why is it a badge of honour to be asleep on our feet, health suffering, sleeping patterns shot to hell?
I wonder how companies can value this over a healthy, happy, well rested employee. Research shows that having the space and time to give ourselves a break means we can focus better, increase our productivity, and take less days off sick. Doesn’t it make sense for us to place a higher emphasis on down time rather than work time?

In France, a law passed in 2014 means that workers should not check work emails after the time they clock off, even on their smartphones. In addition to the 35-hour work week limit already in place, this means that French employees have a lot more down time to recuperate and refresh, although there is always the possibility of working overtime.

Sweden is trialling a 6-hour work week to see if it will increase efficiency, and help them feel better ‘mentally and physically’ according to councillor Mats Pilhelm. Working long hours means we have to take more breaks. Working in short daily bursts means we keep focused and productive.

Taking time to look after ourselves results in feeling better across the board, with reduced illness due to stress, clearer thinking, and time to spend with our families and friends. More time spent actually living our lives rather than working endless hours results in increased happiness and satisfaction.

As with all, it’s different horses for different courses. People relish spending time working if they are happy, stimulated and rewarded by their work, whether they work for themselves or for an employer. If we find satisfaction in our actions, there’s no reason to cut down. But on the flip side, if we are becoming tired, worn out, stressed and depressed by the time we spend working, then we should do something about it ,From having a word with your boss to seeking a new challenge entirely, it’s important to remember that the best work comes from a healthy, happy human.

So look after yourself and remember to make time to relax, enjoy, and experience the world outside.



3 thoughts on “The long hours work week

  1. Thank you for this piece. I work a minimum of a 50 hour week – not counting time on emails, etc out of hours. Everybody else I work with does too – it is the company ethos (‘voluntarily’ of course, but if you do not…). Am I happy? No. I am currently re-evaluating everything and deciding where to go next. All I know is that I do not want to be working this hard and being so stressed in ten years time. Your timely piece has helped crystallise the discontent I gave been feeling recently. Thank you again!

    1. Thanks Annie! It is hard to realise we need more time for ourselves especially when it’s the norm in our place of work to just keep on working (I used to work in a culture very similar to the one you describe). All the best in your journey forwards, there is so much more to life than long hours!

      Sal 🙂

  2. I am just reading The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell – working hours are something she talks about there just along these lines, as a young Englishwoman adjusting to Denmark. I’m sure you’d find it very interesting – until recently, Denmark was consistently on the lists of “happiest place to live”: it’s just switched to Switzerland ;o lol
    In fact, although much of what Russell describes could easily apply to Switzerland, working hours are probably somewhere inbetween the two countries as far as attitudes to work are concerned.
    We were just talking about the fact that “manager-types” used to be portrayed as rather portly figures signalling success until a few years ago, whereas nowadays they are expected to be lithe, tanned and fit and to have their work-life balances sorted… well, here, anyway!

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