Workweek Inflation

For a lot of people in the entrepreneurship game, working long hours signifies dedication and success. In many ways, long hours are a badge of honor proudly displayed before clients, employees, and vendors. What better way to show that you’re dead serious about making your business a success?

But are long hours counterproductive?

We all know the answer, and yet most of us work ourselves to the bone anyway. Even though long hours are counterproductive (we’ll get to the reasons why in a minute), it just feels wrong to cut the week off at 40 hours. Forty hours is for average workers, and entrepreneurs don’t like to settle for average!

The proof is undeniable. A handful of studies now conclusively show that working more than 40 hours per week on a consistent basis actually makes people unproductive, and it leads to exhaustion.

Working long hours is useless from an efficiency standpoint, and it can also be harmful. While it was originally unions that pushed for a 40-hour week, it was business leaders that embraced it as a smart decision. Throughout the 1930s, 40s, and 50s literally hundreds of studies were conducted on workplace efficiency. What those studies showed, almost unanimously, is that industrial workers are efficient and effective for eight hours per day and that on average, employers get no more “widgets” out of a ten-hour day than they do an eight-hour day.

There are some exceptions

Overtime hours can at times be super productive. For example, pushing really hard to a tight deadline—working 60 or even 70 hours during critical points—can increase short-term gains. But the benefits will only be realized if those “pushes” are for brief periods of time. Generally increasing office hours by 50% won’t get marginally consistent results. In fact, many studies show that increasing work time by 50% as a rule only nets increased output by about 25%. That’s not efficiency, so don’t do it to yourself!

The takeaway

The message is clear: Going home might be better for your business than staying late. There is one problem with this message. It doesn’t jive psychologically with entrepreneurs. A recent Wall Street Journal article suggested that “We live in a competitive society, and so by lamenting our overwork and sleep deprivation—even if that requires workweek inflation and claiming our worst nights are typical—we show that we are dedicated to our jobs and our families.”

In short, it seems that long hours are psychologically about proving something to ourselves rather than pushing a business forward. It’s worth thinking about.

What you can do

Outsource. We’ve said it before, and we’re saying it again. Do the job you’re best at and delegate other responsibilities. Put good people in charge and empower them to get the job done, while you focus on adding value at your highest point of impact. By doing that, maybe . . . just maybe you can cut your hours to an optimal level.

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