40-Hour Week An Anachronism

Most managers work beyond 9-to-5.


AP (“The 40-Hour Work Week Is a Thing of the Past“):

The phrase “nine to five” is becoming an anachronism.

About half of all managers work more than 40 hours a week, according to a new survey from tax and consulting firm EY, and 39% report that their hours have increased in the past five years. Little wonder, then, that one-third of workers say it’s getting more difficult to balance work and life.

The survey, which fielded opinions from 9,699 full-time employees in eight countries, raises some questions about the sustainability of the current pace of work, said Karyn Twaronite, who heads up diversity and inclusion efforts for EY and commissioned the study.

Employees report that their responsibilities at work have increased while wages have largely stayed flat. And while technologies like company-provided smartphones and remote-work software have bought workers some flexibility, they also keep “people tied to work seven days a week,” Ms. Twaronite noted.

Fifty-eight percent of managers in the U.S. report working more than 40 hours a week, surpassed only by managers in Mexico, where 61% say they’re working those hours. By comparison, just over a third of U.K. managers and under a fifth of managers in China report working beyond 40 hours.

The reported shift in working hours appears to hit parents particularly hard. Some 41% of managers who have kids say they’ve seen their hours increase in the last five years, as compared to 37% of managers who do not have children. Working women and parents also rated the task of managing their work and personal lives as slightly more difficult than men and those without children, but respondents of both genders and all generations reported that they’re feeling the crunch.

The 40-hour work week is an anachronism because it was a byproduct of the industrial age, which is long past. Regular, fixed working hours were a hard-fought concession those who labored in factories and coal mines. In the information age, though, they’re incredibly difficult to arrange.

I made a conscious decision decades ago to trade earning power for quality of life and chose a career path that offered a lot of flexibility. But, even teaching and writing—which offer much more autonomy and off time than typical office or retail sector jobs—have become more demanding in the modern information environment. Email, texting, and smart phones make me much more connected to students and administrators than was the case early in my career, let alone those who had the same jobs 25 or 30 years ago. And the Internet and the proliferation of venues for publishing—including, of course, this site—incentivize writing in what would have been off hours in the evenings and on weekends.

Additionally, these tools have further globalized the economy. I know a lot of people—senior managers in the private sector, scholars, policy wonks, and civil servants—who are on US time during their regular workday and then on Asia time in the evenings. When they travel to Asia, it’s the reverse—they’re still expected to take calls, respond to emails, and otherwise deal with urgent matters going on back at the office.

Some of this is the same sort of managerial abuse of employees as well saw during the worst days of the industrial age. Much of it, though, is just a function of grappling with a new information environment. Some European countries are trying to regulate work-related email, for example. But it’s just going to be incredibly hard to come up with rules that make sense given a global, connected, I-need-answers-right-now world.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. C. Clavin says:

    I’m a licensed professional and I’m in the office for probably about 9-10 hours a day. But emails and texts and phone calls come at all hours of the day, weekends — even vacations. Then there are the ideas that come to me at 3:00am and keep me awake while I get them on paper. So the reality is that I never actually stop working. I love what I do…obsessed really…so it’s of no concern to me. But a 40 hour work-week is really a myth.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Don’t underestimate the role of fear in increasing the length of the work week. A lot of salaried employees including some who by law should not be salaried are putting in hours beyond the 40 hours a week because they’re afraid that if they don’t they’ll be replaced by somebody else who will.

    From July through September of last year I was working 12 hours a day, six days a week. That was because the task at hand required it. Believe me, that was a lot easier when I was 30 than it is now.

  3. DrDaveT says:

    Talking about managers in an article about the 40-hour work week is enough to induce whiplash in anyone familiar with labor history. Managers are not paid by the hour, and never have been. More importantly, they’re management — i.e. not bargaining unit — and thus not the subject of labor negotiations.

    It would only be slightly more surreal to make the headline be about the 40-hour work week, then have the article be about the long hours worked by CEOs and CFOs.

    As for whether the 40-hour work week is an anachronism…

    The median hourly wage for managers is about $47. Due to part-time workers, the annual average is $112k per year (excluding non-wage compensation). Certainly managers do not need to work 40 hours a week to earn a comfortable living. How many hours they need to work in order to do their jobs properly is a different matter.

    At the other end, the median hourly wage for “Personal Care and Service Occupations” is about $10. A 40-hour week full-time would turn that into $20k per year, which is barely a living wage in most of the places where those jobs exist. You can’t separate the question of how many hours per week from the question of how much per hour.

    The non-craft industrial occupations (packers, assemblers, shop floor assistants, etc.) tend to run in the $12 to $15 per hour range (median). Again, how well are you going to live on 2000 hours of that? It’s hard to gin up much sympathy for the poor managers’ time crunch. 40-hour work weeks aren’t an anachronism for most people; they’re a necessity.

  4. Rafer Janders says:

    Let’s keep in mind that there’s a distinction between working more than 40 hours a week and being in the office more than 40 hours a week. I think that a lot of American professionals do the latter — but the former, not so much.

    I’ve worked in both Europe and the US, and one thing that always struck me was that offices in the US are much chatttier and collegial during the day, which often has the result that the work-day bleeds into the evening. In English and German offices, there’s less socializing because work is seen for work — but then when the work day ends, they’re out of there. Part of the reason we spend so much time at work is because we’re not as efficient at work.

  5. Mikey says:

    @Rafer Janders: Yeah, the Germans think if you have to spend unscheduled extra time in the office, you weren’t sufficiently efficient during work hours.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    My experience of working in Germany (admittedly a long time ago) is that there wasn’t much social interaction at all. It was also highly structured. A bell sounded and you started working; another bell sounded and you took a coffee break; a bell sounded and you ate your lunch; there was a final bell that indicated work had ended and everybody left. If you looked around the office at 5:05 the only people you’d see were Americans, Canadians, Brits, Australians, and the Dutch.

  7. James Joyner says:

    @Dave Schuler: Absolutely.

    @DrDaveT: The problem with that is that more and more people are “managers” now, even people with no actual direct reports. We’ve made most office workers exempt, rather than hourly employees, and they’re the modal information age worker.

    @Rafer Janders: @Mikey: There’s something to that. But the nature of intellectually demanding occupations is that most of us can’t really “work,” in the sense of being actually productive, nonstop for eight hours straight absent occasional exigencies.

  8. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    The problem with that is that more and more people are “managers” now, even people with no actual direct reports.

    Unless you can provide some evidence to the contrary, I’m going to assume that BLS occupational code 11-0000 “Management Occupations” consists predominantly, if not entirely, of actual managers. For example, the subheading “Food Service Managers” specifies people who “Plan, direct, or coordinate activities of an organization or department that serves food and beverages. Excludes Chefs and Head Cooks“.

    Even “First line supervisors of personal services workers” are not included under “Management Occupations” by BLS. It’s more restrictive than you think.

    I’d be interested to hear your revised response on the assumption that the BLS categories and numbers mean what they seem to.

  9. JohnMcC says:

    Worth mentioning — that the 40 hour week determines the point at which time-and-half kicks in. Any way to blur or erase that line saves amazing amounts of money for the preferred class, the ‘job creators’. That no one has mentioned that yet is an indicator to me that the social significance of the class of hourly workers has lost a massive amount of importance to those who set national agenda.

  10. Scott says:


    I think there is a conflation here of BLS definitions of managers and workers classified as Exempt or Non-exempt. Two different issues. Even if some workers are considered “managers” for pay purposes by their employers, they are not “managers” by the BLS definition.

  11. al-Ameda says:

    About half of all managers work more than 40 hours a week, according to a new survey from tax and consulting firm EY, and 39% report that their hours have increased in the past five years. Little wonder, then, that one-third of workers say it’s getting more difficult to balance work and life.

    The modern workplace is nothing like the workplace I was in 30 years ago – it’s a lot more competitive, and there is no job security. I happen to think that it’s more of a meritocracy than it was 30 years ago too.

    In my view 40 hour work weeks are generally for people with non-management responsibilities. I’ve been a management employee for over 30 years and it is a rare senior manager who runs a 9 to 5 schedule.

    Insecurity. Many of these managers have substantial amounts of unused vacation leave banked. Many managers do not take vacation leave because they’re convinced that taking a week (or two) off will result in adding to a workload that is already burdensome, and/or they are insecure about their job security.I know people who were in fact laid off upon returning from a long-planned vacation. Perhaps they would have been 86’ed regardless, however their absence enabled senior management to set it up for a somewhat bloodless lay off.

  12. Mikey says:

    @James Joyner: Well, the Germans do leave the office for lunch. And as I recall there are coffee breaks. It’s just that when the time is alotted for work, they are focused on work. There’s not a lot of “how was your weekend?”

  13. Franklin says:

    @Rafer Janders: Seriously. We’re now surrounded by interruption devices; most of you have one in your pocket, if not around your wrist. It’s certainly not clear whether people are more or less productive now. Research continually shows that we weren’t meant to be interrupted and multi-tasking all the time, although it also shows that our brains can somewhat adapt.

    And here I am at work, commenting on OTB.

  14. DrDaveT says:

    @Scott: My point was more that it is inherently misleading to even use the phrase “40-hour work week” when talking about managers. If all you mean is that people in management jobs can expect to spend more than 40 hours at the office every week, that’s fine (and not news) — but it has nothing to do with the default referent for the phrase “40-hour work week”, which is all about collectively-bargained working conditions and hourly wages for blue collar workers.

  15. Tillman says:

    A relevant piece at Vox also discussed the signaling involved: they work the longer hours because they need to be seen, as the piece puts it, as “devoted workers.” Just the perception of it is all you need, apparently, as some do less work but respond to emails and are perceived as devoted.

    However, that piece was centered around a survey at one firm with a small sample size, so caveat emptor.

  16. Ron Beasley says:

    It’s not just managers but we engineers as well. I was on call 24/7. The company I worked for kept shedding engineers but the work did not decrease. This has been going on for decades. There were times I only went home to take a shower and slept at the office.

  17. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT: @Scott: It turns out that “EY” is the rebranded “Ernst & Young.” The only related survey I see on their website is a few months old and they don’t show how they define “manager.” It was a global survey, though, and I doubt that used BLS distinctions. My assumption—and it’s just that—is that they allowed people to categorize themselves.

  18. Ben Wolf says:

    Only three in ten workers actually produce things, leaving the other seven devoted to directing and controling that production. And still this isn’t, apparently, enough given those seven are pushed to work beyond forty hours. We don’t make much anymore, but we’ve gotten really good at layering corporate bureaucracy on top of what little is left.

  19. DrDaveT says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Only three in ten workers actually produce things, leaving the other seven devoted to directing and controling that production

    Three in ten employees in manufacturing firms, or three in ten economy-wide? If it’s the latter, then the other 7 aren’t all managers — they’re mostly people in service industries.

    The BLS numbers show ~9 million workers in “Production Occupations”, vs. fewer than 7 million in “Management Occupations”. So I think you must be talking about the economy as a whole, where the vast majority are neither makers nor managers, but are instead teachers, nurses, florists, salesmen, cab drivers, consultants, sous chefs, etc. etc. etc.

  20. michael reynolds says:

    Back in the bad old days when I actually worked for a living – mostly in restaurants – I used sheer brute force hours-on-duty to rise quickly in a new job. If you agree to work every shift they assign, then work every time they ask for more, and agree to cover the shift of anyone who needs time off, you quickly become indispensable to the management. You become the go-to guy. Managers love a reliable go-to guy.

    Then you get busy subverting the manager, take his job, quickly grow bored and then quit. At least that was my approach.

  21. Dave Schuler says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Indirect production is production. The marketing department, sales department, and payroll departments aren’t actually producing any widgets but they’re still necessary to the operations of the company. That’s indirect production.

    That’s not to say that there still aren’t lots of companies that have multiple layers of people engaged in the production of what is politely referred to as “organizational capital”. You can’t have directors that have nobody reporting to them, can you?

  22. Tyrell says:

    @DrDaveT: Think about this: around here a starting teacher
    gets about $15 an hour, a little more if they have a masters. Some people think it is a 8:00 -3:30 job. No. Not when you figure in early morning duty, afternoon duty, after school meetings, workshops, supervision of clubs and dances, selling tickets at sports events, cleaning up after dances and games. Then teachers load up their cars to do paperwork at night and on weekends. Most teachers do not get a duty free lunch break. So you are talking about a 9-10 hour work day, and then more work to do when they get home. Are the foreign schools like that ? The ones that politicians are always comparing American schools to ? To me a professional educator should not have to sell cupcakes, direct traffic, or sweep the gym floor after a volleyball game.
    A lot of school systems cut back staffing due to budget cuts a few years ago. Now teachers have even more work to do.

  23. Gromitt Gunn says:

    This piggybacks upon a conversation I was having with a colleague earlier today, as we approach the end of the Spring semester at the community college where we are both full-time instructors in the Business division.

    We both agreed that, as much as we enjoyed our business careers, we prefer the work-life-money trade-off involved in working as faculty. No matter how grueling a particular semester is, it has a definite end date, and there is (for us, at least) always at least two weeks before we have to start again, even if you pick up summer teaching. Even if you are actually in the office doing admin work or developing class materials or attending a conference, the semester itself is a discrete unit of time and the unique stressors of that semester *will* end.

    I will get my grades in next Thursday. Summer I starts on June 4th. I am done with face to face summer teaching on July 3, and then I only have online classes through early August, with two weeks off entirely in mid-August until I have to start prepping for Fall.

    On my 9 month contract, I make roughly 60% of what I was making at my last professional accounting job. Overload pay for summer courses and one extra course per semester gets me to about 75%. I have deliberately simplified my life so that I can cover the lost income, and every day I am grateful for making the change when I did.