Dec 1, 2016

You May Be Pulling More Than 40 Hours In Your 40 Hour Week

The 40-hour workweek is deeply embedded in the American dream. The majority of American citizens graduate from college and dive into a 9-5 work life.

The norm is to check in at work, do the job at hand and 5pm clock out and head home to spend an evening with family or friends.

After working for 30 years on a 9-5, the employee retires and spends the remaining days of his/her life puttering around the garden, golfing or traveling.

The system is entrenched in the American folklore so much that immigrants flock to the United States and work excruciating hours so that their children can get an American education and qualify for a 40-hour workweek. 

A majority of salary jobs pay on a 40-hour workweek basis, and any more ours above 40 are registered as overtime.

Given said system three questions are asked, When did the 40-hour workweek originate? Does a majority of Americans work only 40-hour workweeks? Is the 40-hour workweek idea? Below, we focus on these questions, and our research dug up the following answers:

The 40 Hour Workweek Origin

The United States government started tracking work hours in 1890 after running a survey that determined the average employee worked 100 hours a week. Back then workers used to work an average of 14.5 hours a day for seven days each week.

The gruesome workday was observed by employers who took the advantage of maximizing productivity from their overworked workers.

In 1866, the National Labor Union pushed Congress to pass an eight-hour work week, unfortunately, their request was denied. In 1867, the illinois Legislature invoked a law that stating that employees should work for 8 hours a day.

Employees were aggravated by the law and refused to oblige, a move that led to the massive Chicago employee strike.

President Ulysses S. Grant in 1869 issued a proclamation ensuring that all civil servants received a regular wage for working an 8 hour shift every day. In 1940, Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act making it clear that workers should work a maximum 40 hours each week.

Do Most Employees Work 40 Hours Weekly? 

John Maynard Keynes, an economist in 1930, predicted that American workers would eventually work 15 hours a week.

Unfortunately, the 40-hour week was overtaken by the amount of work put in and recent studies show that a majority of the workforce put in 47 hours per week. The extra seven hours amount to a whole extra day each week.

Moreover, the study revealed that 40% of the workforce reported pulling in over 50 hours each week. Salary positions are part of the increase in hours as workers don’t get paid overtime compensation and they have to work until the job gets done.

The study explained why full-time hourly workers work 44 hours weekly compared to full-time salaried workers working 49 hours averagely every week.

Is the $40-Hour Workweek Realistic?

Studies continue to show that a 40-hour week maximizes productivity. They also show that working more than 40 hours lowers productivity significantly. Working more than 40 hours leaves one mentally and physically fatigued, their productivity falls.

Working less than 40 hours a week is the solution to more productivity, unfortunately, not many employers will go for this recommendation.

Employees can maximize their productivity by minimizing workplace distractions and focus on difficult projects during peak hours. Cutting the time spent on social media and email will increase productivity.


You don’t have to be miserable to be successful, working smart as opposed to working hard is a successful and more fulfilling path. Focus on working fewer hours and doing your best to maximize your productivity.    

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