Americans are self-proclaimed workaholics and are working longer and odder hours than ever before. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Employment Situation Survey for February 2018, Americans worked an average of 34.5 hours per week.
Women are working especially long hours. On average, women worry more than men about their absence at work making them seem less committed to their jobs (28 percent to 25 percent), perhaps due to larger societal implications regarding women in the workplace, according to Project Time Off. A recent Welch's study even suggested that, when you factor in family duties, working moms pretty much never stop working — they work the equivalent of two full-time jobs, clocking in an average of 98 hours per week. Add to that the fact that more women are working past the age of retirement than ever before, and it's a recipe for burnout.
While some surveys suggest those who are always switched on are actually more satisfied with their lives than those who unplug at a reasonable hour each day, those who are always switched on aren't necessarily better workers. In fact, the fallacy that “work ethic” and “work martyrdom” are synonymous is toxic. Employees who don’t use their allotted paid time off, for example, are not always more invested; instead, they’re no more likely to get promotions and actually less likely to receive raises or bonuses.
That's perhaps because working longer doesn't necessarily mean working better. And Americans tend to exaggerate how much they work. The truth is that many of us are overwhelmed because we choose to be "busy," and the perception of working hard and actual hard work don't always yield the same results.
"How we'd measure how much we work hard was how long that we'd work," serial entrepreneur Steve Blank recalled of the early days of his startup E.piphany in an interview. "We had dinners at work. People were proud that they slept in their cots and they didn't go home until 11 at night. Serious people worked serious hours. But one day I realized that was a mistake."
Blank remembers leaving his office around 7 p.m. one day and learning that his direct reports and the rest of the company started to leave soon after he'd left the building, too. Normally, however, everyone would have stayed.
"I realized that I built a culture where appearance of work was what was valued, not the output," he said. "I started thinking about it and I said, 'We're measuring the wrong thing.' What I really cared about, and what should have been cared about, and what I should have been teaching my whole management team about was: Are we delivering value? I don't care what time you're going home; I care about your output."
He changed his company culture to focus on deliverables as opposed to time perceived to be working. Eventually, staying at the office late meant that one was either not good at their job or they had too much work on their plates, he said.
On top of that, a wealth of research shows that working more than 40 hours a week is actually unsustainable and prevents productivity. Research has warned that failing to give one's brain adequate time to recharge, whether they're working or just lingering at the office appearing to work, can lead to burnout.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.