“For many American knowledge workers, the 40-hour work week is as quaint a notion as the lunch hour,” said Tim Fitzpatrick, a Lexmark vice president, in response to his company’s findings that in the last five years, 61 percent of workers have added five hours to their 40-hour hour work weeks, and 8 percent work an extra 20 hours per week or more.
Few argue that a 40-hour work week isn’t a thing of the past. In fact, in most workplaces, zipping in at 9 a.m. on the nose and packing one’s bags at 4:59 p.m. is considered downright slacker-like. But if you ask even the most ambitious professional how they feel about a 70-hour work week, most will agree it seems excessive.
Yet between actual office hours, and those spent outside work on computers, cells, PDAs and commuting, 20 percent of U.S. workers are actually logging work weeks that top 70 hours, according to a study, “Extreme Jobs: The Dangerous Allure of the 70-Hour Workweek,” released in December 2006 by the Center for Work-Life Policy in New York. Forty-eight percent of respondents said they were working an average of 16.6 hours more per week than they did five years ago.
The study examines a cultural shift in the way overachievers are perceived. High-earning professionals with all-consuming jobs, as well as workaholics that created these jobs where they didn’t need to exist, have always been around, but while they were once considered anomalies, they are now named “masters of the universe” and “road warriors”–not exactly negative connotations.
What a miserable life, one might think, and yet evidence points to the contrary. Seventy percent of these 70-hour workers loved their jobs and found them exhilarating, but even this excitement wouldn’t keep them going indefinitely. A majority of women (57 percent) said they didn’t want to keep at this pace for more than another year, a sentiment echoed by 48 percent of the men.
The author, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, makes many suggestions to those who feel unable to resist long work hours. Stop slacking, she says, reading gossip and news sites, and you’ll better be able to use the hours you have. Draw lines; if it’s an emergency, people will call, not e-mail you. E-mails can be answered later, not at the dinner table. But most importantly? Lose the idea that it’s “wimpy” to create balance in your life.