In 1930, the iconic economist John Maynard Keynes floated some startling predictions about what the future of employment would look like. Keynes believed that we’d soon only be working an average of 15 hours every week, thanks to growing technology and industrialization.
His assertion was backed up by evolutionary biologist Julian Huxley, who calculated we’d only have to work two days every week in the future. In fact, they thought our time would be so liberated from industry and open to leisure that our biggest issue would be being too bored.
“The human being can consume so much and no more,” Huxley said. “When we reach the point when the world produces all the goods that it needs in two days, as it inevitably will, we must curtail our production of goods and turn our attention to the great problem of what to do with our new leisure.”
As recently as 1960, a Senate subcommittee predicted that we’d only have to work about 14 hours per week by the year 2000.
Yet, the opposite is true – we are working more, and not just by a little, but logging more hours than ever with no end in sight. And we can’t just blame this as a necessity in our modern world, as most other industrialized nations in the world have laws that limit the work week, while also ensuring paid vacation days, sick days, and even parental leave.
Just how profound is our workaholic pandemic?
Average work weeks:
A recent Gallup poll survey revealed that the average work week for U.S. full-time employees consists of 47 hours. That almost adds up to an extra full day of work every week.
11 percent of those surveyed worked 41-49 hours, 21 percent put in 50-59 hours every week, and a whole 18 percent work 60 or more hours. That means that almost exactly 50 percent of full time workers log more than 40 hours every week.
The Netherlands has the shortest legally mandated work weeks of any industrialized nation, with an average of 29 hours and only four work days every week. France had 35-hour work weeks for a while and even contemplated 30-hour work weeks.
On average, Americans work 137 more hours every year than Japanese workers – who we perceive as chronically overworked, 260 more hours than British workers, 394 hours more than the average uber-efficient German worker, and a whole 499 more hours per year than workers in France.
There are more of us working these long hours, too. In the U.S., 85.8 percent of makes and 66.5 percent of females work more than 40 hours every week.
Out of the approximately 200 countries in the world, 134 have laws capping the maximum number of hours an employee can work, including every industrialized nation.
However, the United States is one of the minority countries and the only industrialized nation without laws setting the maximum hours of work in a week.
In 1960, only 20 percent of mothers worked. But today, at least 70 percent of American children live in households where all adults are employed. Of course it doesn’t matter who works and who stays home, but that shows the increase in two or more working adults in a household.
Out of every industrialized nation in the world, the U.S. is the only one without a national paid paternal leave benefit.
The average parental leave time is 12 weeks in all industrialized nations outside of Europe, and 20 weeks in Europe.
Vacation and sick time:
Every industrialized nation in the world has federal laws about paid sick leave for employees…except the United States. We stand alone with our lack of laws to protect ill workers.
In the U.S., employees average 13 vacation days per year, and not all of them are guaranteed to be paid. But in every other industrialized country except Canada or Japan, workers get 20 paid vacation days. In France, Finland, and some other European countries, workers are legally guaranteed 30 paid vacation days every year.
Since 1950, the average productivity per American worker has increased 400%. However, during approximately the same period, real wages (adjusted for inflation and cost of living) have remained stagnant. That means that we need to work about 11 hours extra every week just to keep up with what we were earning in 1950.
We may be working longer, but we’re getting less done the longer we stay behind our desks. In fact, numerous studies show that our productivity declines rapidly after a certain amount of time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports “a pattern of deteriorating performance on psychophysiological tests as well as injuries while working long hours,” and that “the 9th to 12th hours of work were associated with feelings of decreased alertness and increased fatigue, lower cognitive function, and declines in vigilance on task measures.”