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50-Hour Workweeks? How to Cut Back on the 'New Normal'

50-Hour Workweeks? How to Cut Back on the 'New Normal'
Credit: KREUS/Shutterstock

Years ago, working exactly 40 hours per week — 9 to 5, Monday through Friday — was the standard for most office employees. Today, this schedule is still fairly common, but workers are often logging far more than their expected 8 hours a day.

According to a survey of U.S. "knowledge workers"— those who primarily handle or use information in an office setting, rather than working with their hands — by Web conferencing software PGi, 87 percent of employees work more than 40 hours per week, with nearly one-quarter of all respondents putting in more than 50 hours per week. But these workers are not necessarily staying late in the office: About 80 percent of survey respondents said they bring work home with them one or more days per week, including 15 percent whose work-related activities bleed into their weekends.

The study also found that lunch breaks have taken a hit in employees' efforts to get more done during the workday. Fifty-eight percent of workers told PGi that they don't eat lunch away from their desk during the typical workday. However, skipping lunch breaks actually does more harm than good because taking regular breaks boosts productivity and prevents fatigue and burnout, experts say. [What's Your Most Productive Work Time? How to Find Out]

The always-on, constantly connected environment in which today's workers live has shaped this trend of longer hours and blurred lines between work and personal time. But just because employees can work 24/7 doesn't mean they want to: More than 70 percent of survey respondents admitted they were unhappy with how many hours they're working and wish they had more time for personal activities such as exercising, spending time with family and friends, pursuing hobbies and running errands.

Overworked employees also said they would appreciate in-office perks to relieve stress, with gym memberships (32.6 percent), relaxation rooms (25.9 percent) and lunchtime yoga sessions (16.3 percent) topping the list.

To combat their diminishing personal time, employees are finding little ways to be more efficient in the office and cut down on the work they need to take home. Survey respondents said the following tricks increase their productivity:

  • To-do lists
  • Bringing lunch to work
  • Drinking coffee
  • Avoiding meetings
  • Not using social media
  • Taking breaks
  • Telecommuting
  • Not multitasking

Ultimately, though, it's up to employers to let their workers know it's OK to disconnect. However, not all employers are doing so: 64 percent of HR professionals expect employees to be reachable outside of office hours, according to a recent CareerArc/WorkplaceTrends.com survey. In another Business News Daily article, CareerArc CEO Robin Richard advised employers to really listen to staff members about what workplace flexibility means to them, and to encourage personal activities outside the office to promote a healthy work-life balance.

PGi surveyed more than 500 U.S.-based professionals about their workweeks. For full results, visit PGi's blog post.

Nicole Fallon

Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. Nicole served as the site's managing editor until January 2018, and briefly ran Business.com's copy and production team. Follow her on Twitter.