Welcome To The 72-Hour Work Week

Asleep at desk
It seems like a new study comes out every day explaining why millennials are so desperately unhappy — but it might be because the average American professional now works 72 hours a week. If you love your job, working overtime is fine, but if you’re a corporate drone attempting escape, the digital age makes it almost impossible. I can’t help but think this is a contributing factor to our generation’s pervasive unhappiness. In the past, if someone hated their entry-level job they could escape at the end of the day, but now, our work insists on following us home.

A recent survey found that 60% of people who carry smartphones are connected to their jobs for 13.5 or more hours a day on weekdays and about 5 hours on weekends. This means they spend about 62% of their waking hours every week connected to their jobs, which seems incredibly excessive when you think about how one day we’re all going to die, and we’re going to have spent our lives at a digital desk.

Apparently, it is possible to enjoy your job, if the messages you’re receiving are important. If it’s something only you can do, it will be easy for you and make you feel worthwhile. However, if your managers have no idea what they’re doing, you’re going to hate them. What bothers workers is “when companies use 24-7 connectedness to compensate for organizational inefficiencies and when it significantly undermines their personal lives, productivity, creativity, and ability to think strategically. The complaints we heard most often (from at least three-quarters and as high as 96% of respondents) centered on useless meetings and emails, inadequate technology, disorganized or incompetent C-suites, and unclear decision-making authority.” I have a boss who finds it perfectly acceptable to text me non-stop on a Friday night (when I’m already drinking away my day) about tasks that could easily be dealt with Monday, sends me so many emails over the weekend I sometime check my calendar on a Saturday to make sure it’s not actually a workday, and who felt it was appropriate to email me until midnight the night before I got surgery about a task I had already completed, which he could have easily checked himself. Said boss also recently offered me a promotion. Now, before you get too excited, the promotion in question would require me to work 60 hours a week for the same salary. See, you guys? Dreams really do come true.

One manager that was interviewed for the study, “talked about an incident where he was out on a date and received a message saying he had to get on a strategy call with an executive at 9pm on a Friday night. This wasn’t an emergency; the manager had simply changed his mind about a decision he’d made earlier that week and that was in the process of being implemented.” I know our generation is seen as a bunch of whiny complainers, but I think sometimes we have the right to complain, but we feel like we can’t because we don’t want to risk losing jobs we hate in a horrible economy. For the most part, we’re all entering the job force now, which means there’s a need to please that forces us to be connected to our phones more than most so we don’t miss an important message.

Unfortunately, this constant connection can also lead to FOMO—whether you feel like you’re missing out on an event because you’re seeing it on social media, or because you’re missing out on your life because you’re too busy anxiously awaiting an e-mail that may or may not come. Maybe we don’t like our lives because we’re not actually living them.

One study participant “moved from an executive job requiring him to be constantly connected (including on weekends and holidays) to a position at another company with a less demanding schedule told us it was a dramatic shift. Previously exhausted and stressed, he said he felt ‘a huge difference.’”

If you’re still figuring out exactly what it is you want to do with your life, and the one thing you’re certain of is that your job is certainly not it, it makes it harder to unwind at the end of the day if your hours are never really over (unless alcohol is involved). It also makes it difficult to look for jobs that would make you happier if you’re constantly doing work, even when you’re not physically at work.


The study’s message is that people don’t mind being connected to work once they leave the office if it’s important, but they do mind when it’s because their managers are mismanaging their time, which seems more common than not. Because the big boss knows you always have your phone handy, they assume that you should be reachable at all hours of the day. This means you’re glued to your phone, constantly checking your inbox, because you’re never actually off work. It makes sense that more and more grads are turning to less stressful jobs, like nannying, to escape the harsh reality of the real world. After all, why not play with kids all day to escape being an adult? If the real world is all work and no play, then I quit.

[via Harvard Business Review]

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