The standard 40-hour workweek is outdated. Although far better than any previous standard, many workers are coming to realize that it no longer works with modern life.
The forty-hour work week was great for those who had a partner at home taking care of the house and kids. However, in today’s world, both partners typically work, leaving precious little time for housework and chores and even less for hobbies and self-care.
The 40 Hour Work Week
Today’s standard work week has employees giving forty hours of their lives each week to work. Forty hours is the standard for full-time work. Anything under is part-time, while anything over becomes overtime.
It was a fantastic standard when it was first implemented. Companies were finally forced to pay extra for overworking their employees, and workers had something tangible they could point to when demanding the extra pay.
Modern Limitations to the Forty-Hour Work Week
Though trailblazing when first implemented, the forty-hour work week no longer works for modern society. Many bosses stretch the definitions, forcing employees into “salary-exempt” roles to avoid paying overtime when their positions don’t fully meet the requirements.
Our open 24/7 society prevents people from working standard 8-hour shifts and instead schedules more staff for busier periods while stretching the hours of overnight staff to offer extended availability.
Our interconnected world means many people never truly disconnect from work. Bosses expect employees to answer calls and emails outside their scheduled forty hours.
And finally, the rising cost of living makes it impossible for most families to survive on one income, meaning the forty-hour workweek leaves precious little time for life.
Shifting To a Better System
We can escape the forty-hour dredge. Experiments around the globe with a four-day workweek show a lot of promise for productivity and happiness.
Other countries are experimenting with types of UBI to bridge the gap between work and technology. With advances in AI and robotics, we may not need everyone to work anymore, and UBI would provide those who get left behind a way to support themselves without the need to work.
A shift to a culture of part-time work would also help alleviate the issues with technology taking jobs, as we’d need twice the people to perform the same work.
There are plenty of options for shifting away from a forty-hour work week, but so far, most countries lack the political will to fully implement any of these ideas.
In the meantime, most of us are stuck working forty hours a week.
How To Survive a Forty-Hour Work Week
While scrolling through the popular R/askreddit community, I found a user seeking help managing life while working long hours. “How do you work 40+ hours per week without dying?” the perplexed user asked.
Redditors came through. Some offered advice for making work time bearable, while others shared the things that motivate them to keep going. Most agreed that they’d prefer a shorter work week, but since they don’t see that happening, they try to make the best of what they’ve got.
Here are some of the top responses.
Many users said that time flies when you’re doing stuff. Actively engaging in the work, mentally or physically, makes it go faster.
Users from a wide variety of career fields agreed with this answer.
“I worked in construction for a summer, and as long as I was busy, time flew by,” shared one.
“As a programmer, this rings especially true. I’ll go through trial and error, brainstorming solutions, and next thing you know, it’s been an hour and a half,” replied another.
Keeping engaged is vital to making the day go quickly.
Enjoying the Job
Working 40 hours a week at a job you hate is incredibly draining. Some said it’s not as bad when you enjoy the work.
“Finally getting a job I didn’t hate was such a huge game changer,” shared one user. “I used to get panic attacks before work. Now I don’t even think twice, and sometimes look forward to it!”
You don’t have to love your job, but not hating makes the 40+ hours you spend there tolerable.
Many said they deal with it because they have to. The job gives them the money they desperately need to survive.
Our options are limited. We can spend the bulk of our time working jobs we don’t like, or we can not work and starve.
The choice is clear when put in those terms.
Working from Home
The new shift to remote work makes it much easier to log those 40 hours. Now, employees only need to put in the exact forty hours rather than dedicate time to commuting, getting ready, and unpaid breaks.
While working from home, workers can use their break time to meal prep and use that few seconds of downtime to change out the laundry, freeing up even more of their after-work time to do what they please.
It’s the best of both worlds for employees, so we hope to see even more remote work opportunities in the future.
Having a Reason
Many users said providing their children with a better life motivates them to continue toiling.
“For my daughter. I don’t EVER want her to have the childhood I had,” shared one user.
They said that they wanted to ensure their daughter had a safe environment to grow up in and food in her belly, and they could do that by working 40+ hours per week.
Knowing Key Tasks
One user shared a helpful tip for getting through work each day. “Learn what tasks need your full effort and which you can just “mail-in,” they advised.
Not every task you’re assigned is essential. If you struggle to maintain productivity for 8 hours straight, try giving your all to the critical tasks while putting off the less vital work for later. Get the important things done while you have the energy, and follow through with everything else towards the end of the day.
Many of us work on autopilot. We get up, get ready, go to work, come home, have dinner, go to bed, rinse, and repeat, day in and day out.
You get used to it. The days all run together until one day you wake up and 30 years have passed.
It’s nearly impossible to work 8 hours straight without a break. Those who cope with long work days often break it up.
Take a walk, rest your eyes, and grab lunch or coffee. Walk away from work for a few minutes to clear your mind and refocus.
These breaks are often essential to making it through an entire workday.
Taking Care of Your Physical Health
Staring at a computer all day is draining and doesn’t do your body any good. One user said that making time for physical activity and exercise gave them the added energy boost they needed to work long hours.
“When I worked 55 hours a week, I was also going to the gym 4-5 days a week. I was in the best shape of my life,” shared one user.
“ I work 60-hour weeks some weeks, and it doesn’t really feel any different than the weeks I only do 35, but I start almost every day in my work’s gym for an hour,” added another.
It’s not as easy as it seems. Others said they don’t have the time or energy to work out after work and chores.
Life Outside Work
Many users shared that life outside work is critical to pushing through at work. Engaging in hobbies, hanging out with friends, and doing things you enjoy in your free time help make the long hours at work worthwhile.
Make time for yourself despite the long hours. Try a new hobby, make a point to get out with your friends, or take a weekend off for a short trip.
Giving your life meaning outside work makes those hours bearable.
Getting Through the Week Until We Can Change the System
The tips in this thread can help almost anyone trudge through a long workweek. Do any of them speak to you?
Regardless, there’s still hope for changing the system. Consider the alternatives to a forty-hour work week and how any of those systems could improve your life.
Take political action to promote these ideas to the people by supporting candidates who favor similar policies or creating organizations dedicated to enacting these changes.
The work culture we want is possible if we’re willing to fight for it.
Melanie Allen is an American journalist and happiness expert. She has bylines on MSN, the AP News Wire, Wealth of Geeks, Media Decision, and numerous media outlets across the nation. She covers a wide range of topics centered around self-actualization and the quest for a fulfilling life.