In the early 20th century, Ford Motor Company determined that 40 hours a week was the peak period for productive work within a five-day span. Working more than 40 hours brought a meager increase in productivity temporarily, but after a month or so it actually made workers less productive. Thus, the 40 hour work week became the national precedent, and labor unions establishing the Saturday-Sunday weekend. Five days a week, eight hours a day has been the standard for nearly 100 years. However, as industry gave way to service and the private sector grew larger and more pervasive, a cultural more has crept into our work lives; the sometimes explicit expectation that we work more.
Especially true in the business sector, James shares the example of Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, who left the office every day at 5:30 to be with her children, but who felt she needed to hide that fact for several years. Now, in a kind of social backlash against this unwritten workforce expectation, Sandberg is being lauded as a hero for leaving “early” to be with her family. James makes the point that this is ludicrous, and the research has shown that working longer hours does not lead to greater productivity for nearly a century. However, the amount we work has been psychologically tied to our personal integrity and our loyalty to our employer, even to the point where the success of our family life is considered mutually exclusive to our success within our workplace. Again, James shares an example where the number of divorces of managers is considered a metric for their productivity within the company.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that, even in times of high joblessness and economic uncertainty, your family and closest relationships are the most honest sustenance we have. Our greatest competitors overseas, Denmark, Finland, England, Germany, mandate six to eight weeks of vacation and ban workweeks greater than 48 hours. It’s no mystery as to why they are our greatest competitors in terms of a productive workforce; their people are content.