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Is the 40-hour workweek still feasible in today’s society?- Long hours impact productivity, increase health problems

Written by Caroline Dowd-Higgins. Posted in Featured

Published on July 13, 2016 with No Comments

The Monday through Friday workweek was first introduced in 1926 when Henry Ford began shutting down his automotive factories on Saturday and Sunday to allow his labor force to rest. But it was not until 1940, when a provision of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act mandating a maximum 40-hour workweek went into effect, that the two-day weekend was adopted nationwide.

In May 2016, the Department of Labor made a ruling to revise the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regarding overtime regulations to prevent exploitation of those making $47,476 or less annually from working over 40 hours a week without overtime compensation.   According to the Society of Human Resources Management, that is more than double the old threshold of $23,660 for an exempt position even for those classified as manager or professional roles. This new rule goes into effect on December 1, 2016.

That’s a great step in the right direction for protecting people below 50K annually from working more than 40 hours a week without additional compensation. However, we still have a long way to go to fix the burn-and-churn professional culture and work expectations in many career industries. And what about individuals who earn above the FLSA exempt rate? Should anyone be expected to work more than 40 hours a week?

The financial and legal sectors have for decades expected well over the traditional 40-hour workweek from their employees.

This is particularly common for rookie lawyers and financial industry professionals who have not yet earned their worth in the organization via billable hours or credibility. The burn-and-churn mindset for newly minted lawyers and business professionals often requires them to work 90 hours a week to earn their keep. Weekends and late nights are a given. While meals provided on site might seem like a perk, it’s also a way to keep you working around the clock without leaving the office.

JPMorgan is taking part in the “Pencils Down” initiative in the hopes of returning some life to the work/life balance of its bankers.

Wall Street corporate giants are following suit by strongly encouraging employees to take the weekends off – at least when they are not working on imminent deals. John Donnelly, head of human resources for JPMorgan, told Business Insider the hope is that the new rule will lead to a “structural” change in the bank’s work culture.

“Under specific situations and emergencies, we all understand that sometimes you have to be in on weekends,” Donnelly said. “But making it a routine and a regular, expected thing is really just not necessary.”

The question remains – does a higher salary mean you are obliged to work more hours? If so, what are the boundaries and how can one sustain this long term? There is a growing body of research that indicates how important time away from work is for health and wellness – not to mention productivity on the job.

The British Medical Journal Lancet published a study indicating that people who work more than 55 hours a week have a 33% higher risk of stroke than those who work 35-40 hours a week. The 55+ hour/week workers are also at a 13% higher risk of heart disease. Bottom line – perpetual long hours negatively impact productivity and increase health problems.

Overworking employees leads to low morale, lower cognitive function, and a fall off in productivity, according to a Stanford study. It’s not good for business and it’s never a good thing for the people working too much.

Those at the top level in every organization hold the power to changing the work culture. If the Wall Street executives walk the talk with the Pencils Down concept then junior employees will not fear retribution for working more reasonable hours.

Leadership must create a culture that focuses on productivity and not obligatory face time. By acting as role models, leaders set the tone in their organizations for employees in both work/life integration practices and expectations for productivity and excellence.

It’s obvious that all organizations have crunch time deadlines, special projects, and scenarios that will require late nights and weekend work from time to time. That is to be expected. But the continual pace of mega-hour workweeks is unhealthy, unsustainable and unrealistic for both the organization and the employees in the long run.

Career management is a difficult journey for working adults. The challenge of dividing each 24-hour period into segments that include work, family, wellness, and sleep – not to mention activities outside of work that are meaningful and gratifying – is often unattainable.

The unsustainable over-working culture is being challenged by companies like Netflix that have created new rules of engagement to attract and retain top talent by requiring them to work hard and giving them the flexibility to enjoy their lives.

Netflix gives its employees freedom and responsibility. They expect high performance and they pay top of market. They define a great workplace not by the number of espresso machines but by the stunning colleagues committed to delivering above and beyond and by helping each other achieve and sustain greatness.

As organizations and industries evolve to meet the needs and demands of the new workforce I believe we’ll see many changes. My wish list includes:

• Opportunities for job sharing and non-traditional part-time opportunities

• Flexible work schedules on a 24-hour cycle

• Remote and virtual work environments

• Focus on outcomes and accountability – not weekly hours

• Wellness integration in the workplace

• Utilizing vacation time

• Leadership role models for healthy, productive, and accountable behavior

• Willingness to adapt to the changing talent pool and their needs

We’ve come a long way since Henry Ford’s assembly line in 1926, but we still have challenges to overcome in order to sustain a healthy and productive workforce.

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About Caroline Dowd-Higgins

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All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" (now in the 2ndedition) and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Vice President of Career Coaching and Employer Connections for the Ivy Tech Community Collegesystem and contributes to Huffington PostThrive GlobalEllevate Network,Mediumand The Chronicle newspaper in Indiana.Her online show:Thrive!about career & life empowerment for women is on YouTube. Caroline hosts the award winning podcast, Your Working Lifeon iTunesand SoundCloud. Follow her on FacebookLinkedIn,Google+,and Twitter.

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