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Is technology making our working week longer?

In the past, your working day started the moment you entered the office and ended the moment you shut the door behind you. There weren’t emails to be answered on weekends or take work home with you – it wasn’t physically possible. However, we live in a highly technological world that focuses on portable devices. We are now contactable 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, giving birth to a new generation of hard workers.

For mothers and sick employees, this seems like a positive. It allows mothers to return to work sooner, helping to avoid the time away from work that prevents future promotions and general pay inequality. Employees who call in sick can complete work from home, contacting their colleagues throughout the day from work to keep up to date and ensure productivity.

Flexible hours means greater expectations. Recently, technology appears to have also become detrimental to our working week. Suddenly, a 40 hour week is no longer the norm. The competitive job market is now subject to employees working throughout their personal time just to maintain a job or compete with other workers.

Where employees now work inside their personal time, it no longer constitutes going “above and beyond” one’s role – it is expected. So much so that Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s CFO, felt for years that she couldn’t admit she leaves the office at 5:30pm everyday to make time for her family. This begs the question, how much work is too much work, and when does working excessive hours actually diminish productivity?

In 1900, Ford Motor ran a series of tests and determined that 40 hours a week was the ideal working week. This is because it balances hard work with a reasonable rest period. It was found that any further increase in productivity decreased immediately after 4 weeks when employees began to burn out.

In fact, in 6 of 10 of the most competitive countries in the world, it is actually illegal for employees to work more than 48 hours per week. This indicates that the overall productivity of a company is not dependent upon the number of hours a week that employees work, but the amount of balance they have in their lives. Even for mothers working from home and sick employees, the ability to be constantly and instantly contacted eliminates some of the flexibility that originally motivated their choice to work from home.

We have much to thank technology for within the business world; it has made teleconferencing possible, thereby eliminating travel time and expenses. It has allowed employees to create flexible hours and tend to their personal life. Technology has also enabled information to be located and processed faster than ever before.

Yet, does this increase in productivity require employees to apologise for not working above and beyond a standard working week? Where the retirement age is soon to be extended to 70 years of age, it is likely that employees working more than 40 hours a week will not be able-bodied or able-minded to work these excessive hours for such a long period of time.

It would also seem that women and families in particular suffer most harshly at the hands of this new trend. Perhaps corporations need to look to better human resource management, ensuring that employees are not working to the point where their personal life begins to suffer.

Businesses must begin to recognise that their overall business productivity will suffer at the hands of their focus on excessive work hours. A balance between mental health and productivity much be reached before it is too late.

What do you think? How many hours a week can you work before you begin to burn out? To find out how many hours are expected of your profession, why not sign up with a Mentor to receive first hand advice on how to deal with the stresses of work and find a way to make it more flexible for you!

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