Working hours

How many hours do you work a week? 50? 60? 80? More than 100? And do you send a lot of mails after midnight or very early in the morning?

To many young professionals it’s almost like a race to maintain a high number of working hours. It’s about getting a lot of facetime with the boss and other important stakeholders to get noticed around the office.

On nights out the topic is bound to surface: The number of hours you work. It’s a sort of measure of importance or proxy for performance at work. At times it seems to carry a lot of prestige to be the one doing a lot of hours. Especially if it’s going on for a long period of time.

So the big question is: Are number of working hours and career success positively correlated?

Intuitively it seems that a hard worker with many hours will outperform a non-hard worker (don’t know if that’s even a thing), everything else being equal.

Let’s use Andrew and Barry as an example. Andrew works 60 hours a week, on average, and Barry works 40. That means Andrew spends 20 hours more per week in the office than Barry. Assuming 45 working weeks a year, Andrew works 900 hours more than Barry per year. When they both hit 5 years of experience, Andrew have worked 4,500 hours more that Barry. Or 7.5 years of Barry-equivalent years of experience.

In other words, Andrew would have had better opportunity to be on a steep learning curve and make his mark on the business in which he works. Especially compared to a guy like Barry as he has 2.5 more (Barry-)years of experience. A boss having both of these guys on the team would probably reward Andrew with bonuses and promotions over Barry.

Taking the evidence based approach and looking at what’s been documented reveals a different story. There’s plenty of research that document that productivity drops the more hours you stay at work. And that holds true on a single day, in a week, but also on longer periods of time. So, if you want to only bring your A-game to work, then fewer and more focused hours is the way to go.

I had a boss at one point who told me some words of advice that I haven’t been able to let go since: “The star performers are not the ones staying late, but the ones leaving early and still deliver [according or above expectations]” I added the last part myself.

Further, I haven’t been able to find papers that find a positive correlation between number of working hours and career success.

So, it’s up to you to decide what school of thought you subscribe to and believe in.

I believe that keeping yourself in balance is most important
Personally, I believe in staying flexible towards your work. Delivering a lot of hours in periods of pressure, but offsetting that with fewer hours whenever possible. I had the fortune of getting my first full-time job at a place where there was a healthy focus on keeping a good work/life balance. It’s created a lot of awareness about what many hours are doing to me, and therefore a continuous motivation to keep them under control. And the best is that it doesn’t need to come at a cost of personal development.

Maintaining a good work/life balance helps keeping stress at bay, staying healthy, and keeping in touch with friends and family.

How many hours do you work a week?

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