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How to Beat Overworking and Bring Back Work-Life Balance

How many of us have a 15-hour work week? That’s what economist John Maynard Keynes predicted 21st-century automation would bring; in fact, he believed our main problem would be figuring out what to do with all that spare time! 

Fast forward to today, and the reality is that we’re busier than ever. Full-time U.S. employees work 47 hours per week, on average. In Japan, work can get so intense that there’s even a term — “karoshi” — which means “death by overwork.” Meanwhile, Millennials have been labeled the “burnout generation” — more prone to overwork and stress, especially since “always on” communication tools keep them connected long after the workday ends.  

Overworking seems to be the new normal. But does working longer hours actually work for you and your employees? And if not, how can you beat overworking and reclaim control of your work-life balance?

Does overworking actually work? 

The 40-hour workweek, considered the U.S. standard, was pioneered by Henry Ford around 1914. In a then-controversial move, Ford decreased his workers’ hours from nine to eight hours per day and doubled their pay — and his business boomed as a result. Other companies started adopting this practice, and it soon became the norm. 

However, that was then and this is now, and you might be forgiven for thinking that the eight-hour workday is all but forgotten in the 21st century. Today, many work 60 hours a week, while some people even work 100-hour workweeks

If you think doubling working hours correlates one-to-one with productivity, think again. On the contrary — multiple studies show that working more than 40 hours reduces productivity, and this applies to “knowledge workers” as well as industrial workers. Another study finds that after eight consecutive 60-hour workweeks, any productivity gains over a 40-hour week are completely erased. 

Not only that, but overworking is also directly related to stress, anxiety, depression and heart disease. While you can get short-term gains in productivity by overworking for brief periods — whether because of a crisis or to meet a deadline — it’s only effective if done rarely. Even then, it will take a team time to return to normal productivity. 

What employers can do to prevent overworking

With 66% of U.S. full-time employees feeling they don’t have a good work-life balance and 33% of employed U.S. adults working on any average Saturday, Sunday or holiday, overworking is affecting our quality of life. 

However, the antidote to working long hours isn’t simply to leave at 5pm. In many cases, employees work longer hours for reasons related to company culture, upper management, uneven distribution of workloads or personal time management. So what can you do as an employer to restore work-life balance?

To start, try these tactics: 

  • Set the precedent. Set clear schedules for all employees — and discourage working off the clock. Lead by example by leaving when your shift ends, and establish clear boundaries for yourself on weekends or while on vacation where you don’t work or check…

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