Working Too Many Hours Can Backfire

Exhausted woman sitting on the floor near couch with her computer on her lap and her head in her hands

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American working hours have progressively increased, but that increase has not necessarily caused workers to increase their output. More the 50% of U.S. workers routinely put in more than 40 hours per week, working more than 46 hours per week on average (Saad, 2021). However, employees’ productivity sharply falls after working 50 hours per week. This decrease in productivity is so strong that an employee working 70 hours per week has almost no difference in output than an employee who works 50 hours per week (Pencavel, 2014). 

Technology, now a mainstay in our society, allows for people to work anywhere and anytime. In fact, almost 50% of employees say access to technology has significantly increased their working hours since supervisors can now communicate with employees past their time physically in the office (Purcell & Rainie, 2019). It is important to set boundaries and limit how many working hours are being added to employees’ days and to know what their working hours are, or when they should be expected to respond should members on the same team have varying hours.

At a Glance

  • More than 50% of U.S. employees work more than 40 hours per week, working more than 46 hours per week on average 
  • Long hours are associated with higher turnover and absenteeism
  • Technology increases working hours for almost 50% of employees, as people are always connected
  • Productivity falls after working a 50-hour workweek 
  • Productivity decreases so much that an employee working 70 hours has almost no difference in output than an employee working 50 hours per week 
  • This is an important reason to be mindful of work-life fit


Pencavel, J. (2014, April). The Productivity of Working Hours. IZA   

Purcell, K., & Rainie, L. (2019, December 31). Email and the internet are the dominant technological tools in American workplacesPew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech.     

Saad, L. (2021, May 7). The “40-Hour” workweek is actually longer — by seven hours. Gallup.com    

Additional Resources: 

International Labour Organization. (1999, September 6). Americans work longest hours among industrialized countries, Japanese second LONGEST. Europeans work less time, but register faster productivity gains New ILO STATISTICAL volume Highlights Labour trends worldwide.–en/index.htm 

  • American workers, contrary to the rest of the developed world, are working increasingly more hours while not proportionately increasing their output. Countries like Japan, with significantly lower, and still decreasing, hours are rapidly closing the productivity gap 

Kivimaki, M., Jokela, M., Nyberg, S. T., Singh-Manoux, A., Fransson, E. I., Alfredsson, L., & et. al. (2015, August 19). Long working hours and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: a systematic review and meta-analysis of published and unpublished data for 603 838 individualsThe Lancet.    

  • An employee working 55+ hours a week has a 33% higher risk of stroke than one working 40 or fewer hours 


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