Somehow, between the time when Apple II computers first appeared on metal office desks and the time you started booting up your Windows PC from the comfort of your cubicle, the notion of a 40-hour workweek became as unfashionable as your parents' prom picture.
Today, after seven decades of decline, more than 31 percent of college-educated male workers are regularly logging 50 or more hours a week at work, up from 22 percent in 1980, according to "The Expanding Workweek? Understanding Trends in Long Work Hours Among US Men," a UC-Santa Barbara study. Americans annually work nearly a third more hours than their counterparts in Western Europe do.
Is it any wonder that organizations like Take Back Your Time try to "challenge the epidemic of overwork, overscheduling and time famine" in the workplace?
Just ask those who eat dinner at their desks: It's hard to pack up and leave at 5 when your coworkers are still toiling away like it's noon. How can we work more efficiently and reclaim some precious time for ourselves? Executive coach Maret McCoy, CEO of Glass Ceiling Breakthrough, offers time-saving suggestions for job keepers and job seekers alike:
Job Keepers: Work Smarter, Not Longer
"Teach people how to treat you," McCoy says. "Show that you are a top-notch, high-performing professional who also maintains strong personal boundaries. Your colleagues will respect you more for it. Protect your personal life by leaving work on time without making excuses or feeling guilty."
It's not just your cubemates who may snicker when they see you leave first. You'll need to prove to your boss that you're getting more done in fewer hours. "Make it abundantly clear to your chain of command that you are completely reliable," McCoy says. "Turn all of your assignments in on time and well done. Demonstrate that your clients are well taken care of and are satisfied with your work and level of service. This will give you more latitude in setting and maintaining firm boundaries around your personal life and personal time."
Job Seekers: Time to Get Real -- But Wait for the Offer
Those searching for new opportunities should "ask the pointed questions about work-life balance after you've received an offer," McCoy says. "Be clear that work-life balance is very important to you and that you are not able to work after hours."
Ask your potential new employer:
- What are the daily working hours? Can you put them in the offer letter?
- How much overtime is expected?
- Is there an option for a compressed workweek, like working nine-hour days and getting every other Friday off?
Ironically, the technologies that are supposed to make our lives easier -- laptops, email, instant messaging, PDAs, cell phones, pagers -- make it harder to leave work at the office. McCoy's final tip: "Unless required, do not include your cell phone or pager number in your voice-mail greeting or email signature line. Providing this information says: ‘You are free to contact me anytime, day or night, and I will respond to you immediately.'"
Key Insight: Not Your Grandfather's Workweek
The UC-Santa Barbara study found that it's not the guys on the bottom rung of the economic ladder, but at the top, who are working more hours.
"Between 1979 and 2002, the frequency of long work hours increased by 12.4 percentage points among the top quintile of wage earners," the authors concluded. "Married, salaried men are most likely to work long hours."
Quick Tip: Cut Back to 40 Hours
Research conducted by Indiana University suggests "consistently working 50- and 60-hour weeks may be more of a habit than a necessity." Break the habit by:
- Committing to 40 hours a week for the next three to six months.
- Leaving work on time one or two days a week. If you can't, leave the papers at the office.
- Making yourself unavailable to work on the weekends by scheduling activities.
- Identifying and eliminating unproductive tasks, projects and meetings.
- Reducing email and voice mail by not checking them more than twice a day and being selective about who has your contact information.