Wisdom//

Is It Time to Kill the 40-Hour Workweek?

Technology has created a new working reality.


Technology enriches our lives in so many ways. Unfortunately, we seem intent on abusing it as opposed to using it to our advantage. There are pros and cons in every category from social media to the software used to increase efficiency at work, but the cons appear to be the heavyweights in almost every division. For one, technology is the driving force behind the sh*t show that is the American Presidential election.

On a global level, there are specific epidemics we face together. To name a few:

—World hunger: Why are so many people dying of starvation when billions of dollars are spent on war.

—Climate change: This is a problem of significant magnitude.

—Stress: The greatest health epidemic we face in the West with terrifying repercussions. There are so many causes of death that are directly correlated to stress from cancers, heart failure, stroke, and yes, suicide.

This article concerns itself with our stress epidemic. Unless something drastic is done to change the way we are living our lives, far too many unknowingly (or not) will continue to walk around with blood on their hands. Suicide is not the cause; it’s the effect. According to the WHO, suicide rates have increased 60% worldwide in the last 45 years. It’s beyond terrifying to think of the swarms of people (your family, your friends) walking around isolated and trapped in their own torture chamber trying desperately to seek freedom from depression and anxiety.

I wouldn’t say working 40+ hours a week is the primary reason for this epidemic, but you’d be naive to think it’s not a contributing factor. The immense pressure to succeed and deliver at such a high level in careers which are largely underwhelming is greater than ever as they suck every ounce of energy out of those “fortunate” enough to be in them. Society, of course, fuels this fire through the pressure we put on each other to succeed, to acquire wealth, to be better than our peers, and live a life of envy. I could go on. All of this is a staggering problem perpetuated through technology and fueled by social media.

As a species, we are failing spectacularly at life, but we’re manipulated into believing we should be grateful for it all. We’re now faced with more stimuli than ever reaffirming our negative beliefs.

Stimuli telling us we’re not good enough, we’re not pretty enough, we’re not thin enough, we’re not confident enough, we’re not rich enough, we’re not happy enough, we’re not popular enough, we’re not sexy enough, we’re not strong enough, we’re not smart enough, and God Dammit our skins not radiant enough. The list goes on, and on, and on, creating a perfectionist society that can never be perfect. And we’re supposed to be grateful? It’s no wonder we’re going batshit crazy.

Life is amazing, but we no longer know how to live it. And so we believe the narrative that we must work longer and harder to acquire more money to afford all that is superficial to correct all our imperfections. Unfortunately, our definition of success is so skewed that we digest this making both labor and time cheap. This insanity appears to be great for business as employers have no problem attracting talent that will work themselves into the ground to acquire all they perceive to be successful.

However, sitting in an office for 8, 9, 10+ hours a day just leads to burnout, stress, and misery resulting in a vicious cycle immortalized (it would seem) by the desire to outdo one another. If employees can’t complete their tasks within an 8-hour workday, the employer is either hiring wrong people for the job or simply overworking them.

“Technology promised us productivity, but didn’t tell us the cost was our sanity.” — Gaurav Chandrashekar

To win at life, we need to win at stress, so that it no longer debilitates us resulting in burnout, anxiety, depression, and all the horrific diseases that can stem from it. A good place to start is by focussing more energy on loved ones and creating great relationships where you can laugh at all the hysteria going on around you. Rich or poor; it does not matter. Some of the richest are the most depressed and some of the poorest can teach the most valuable life lessons. With so much of our energy demanded in areas that science says leads to an unfulfilled life, and trying to figure out all the stuff that matters which is never taught in school, how are we ever going to correct this problem on a global scale?

Our minds are nowhere near evolved enough to cope with all the madness that has erupted in business since the inception of the internet. Relationships, family, experiences and all the ingredients required for a great life are neglected for this. For career. For the insufferable pursuit of happiness where we make decisions not by what is right for us, but for that which ultimately look best from the outside looking in. To make parents proud, peers envious, and to appease those whose opinions are irrelevant. For prestige. Our decision-making skills are about as flawed as ‘The Donald’ himself.

The clock is ticking. One of the greatest complaints we have in life today is ‘time’. We don’t have time for family, time for friends, time for our parents, time to exercise, time to have fun, time to look after our health; we don’t even have time to sleep.

What we do have time for is this: working ourselves into the ground for 40+ hours a week. But is this necessary? Unless we’re talking about modern day slavery and working our fellow man to insanity, then no. It’s almost impossible to be productive at a high level for 8 hours without taking Adderall to stay alert. Another all too common problem with children now taking the stuff to function and keep up with the crazy pressure placed on them in school. A crisis within a crisis.

The world has evolved dramatically since the 40-hour workweek was introduced by Henry Ford during the Industrial Revolution. Is it not time for a new revolution? One that focuses less on capitalism and greed, and more on freedom, health, and happiness. And because of technology, all of this can be done without impacting the wealth of those in a position to start the movement.


Has the time not come for technology to enrich our lives instead of ending them prematurely?

According to a study by Microsoft, our attention span is now only 8 seconds (less than that of a Goldfish) due to our obsession with mobile and the overwhelming stimuli fighting for our attention. With this massive shift in human evolution, why is more work and brain power being demanded of us than ever before when it’s clear our minds are incapable of the task.

In America, according to an NPR study, 83% of Americans are currently stressed in their jobs. This is not the world we should be living in. And whether employers are aware of it or not, their leadership must be called into question if their employees are physically sick from the demands being made of them. The output of this is not greater production or profits in the long run. In fact, the cost is so significant that in the US alone, the figure adds up to as much as $300 billion annually with up to one million Americans skipping working every day due to stress.

You’ve got to love the Swedes. They put the 6-hour day theory to the test. An experiment carried out in Gothenburg’s healthcare industry showed promising results with a drop in absenteeism, and increased productivity. Because this experiment was conducted in hospitals which need to be staffed 24/7, it came at a significant cost. And even still, the pros far outweighed the cons.

An office environment where employees are glued to their computer doesn’t have to be staffed 24/7 and therefore, one could argue that companies with the guts to carry out this experiment would see all the pros without the cons. Less turnover, more productivity, and increased creativity were the results the Background AB digital production company reported after voluntarily making the switch. If these results were guaranteed, no owner in their right mind would abstain from such a movement. But the only way to answer the question definitively is by testing the theory.

Calling all employers:

Fact: Happy employees are far more productive than stressed ones. The knock on effect of such a move could have massive positive implications and go a long way to creating a much happier society with time freed up to concentrate on all that matters for a happy life which is currently neglected due to high pressure and unbearable stress. It would also make your work environment a far more enjoyable place to be for all parties involved. If you want to truly win as a leader, you need to lead. If the trial works, your staff will be telling everyone how lucky they are to work for you and before long, other employers will be asking you for advice on how best to implement and manage such a move. And if it doesn’t work out? Well, my guess would be that your staff will still think you’re pretty cool for testing it out. The question remains: are you bold enough to start a revolution?


Images courtesy of Sonja Langford and Charlz Gutiérrez De Piñeres

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

Originally published at medium.com

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