There’s a bit of a paradox out there regarding the number of hours you need to work. Everyone seems to have a different opinion on how many is the “right” number of hours.
- Conventional wisdom says 40 hours is the correct number.
- Most unions also negotiate around 40 hours
- Tim Ferriss obviously coaches Four Hours a Week
- Client services (banking, consulting, law) expect ~80 hours a week
- Elon Musk says a minimum of 80, and he typically works 120
So what is the right answer?
Well, if we look at the data, most Americans work around ~45 hours a week. According to Gallup, the number of hours worked has been remarkably steady over the past few years.
So if we assume 45 is the average, how many hours per week is the ‘right’ number of hours?
The short answer is: it depends. But I do know the answer is not 40 hours per week.
#1: A startup business will always fail if you only work 40 hours a week
If you just started a startup and are hustling to make it work, you’re probably looking at the Elon Musk 90+ hour work week. Entrepreneurship seems glamorous, but it is essential to know what you’re getting into.
It’s a bit of a cliche, but Shark Tank is interesting for a lot of reasons. You’ll notice that Mark Cuban tends to resonate best with entrepreneurs who are upfront and honest about the number of hours they spent to get a business going.
The reality is, as a startup, you’re on a shot-clock. You typically only have a few months of money (AKA runway). If you don’t get enough traction in the next few months, you’re going to be in trouble. That’s why 94% of founders work more than 40 hours a week.
In other words, a startup has only a few months to get going. With that deadline, you’ll find founders up and working all the time. If you want to read more about how much work you’ll need to do to succeed at a startup, we highly recommend The Hard Thing About Hard Things.
#2: An existing business does not need 40 hours of work per week
So let’s say your company now has some traction and has at least a year of runway left in the bank. In other words, you have at least a year before you go out of business!
Or, you’re an employee for a Fortune 500, and it’s safe to say the company will still be around for at least a decade.
Why are people working more than 40 hours a week? Except in the case of the rare executive who needs that much time, there is no reason to work that much.
The reason why is research shows most employees are only productive for roughly three hours a day.
This isn’t something you don’t already know. In fact, most people know this. That’s why it blows my mind more companies haven’t made a change to their work hours. If you want to read about a company that made a change, check out Rework.
Here’s a quick story that has stuck with me for years. At my second job, there was this guy who started a few weeks after me. We’ll call him Bob.
Bob was a morning person. He’d get in around 7 and work extremely hard from 7–11am. Around 11, he’d finish his work for the day and begin to look bored. He’d read sports news online until noon and then take an hour-long lunch.
He’d get back at 1 pm and then kill time until 5 pm. He played Candy Crush, he surfed online, he spun in circles on his wheelie chair. At 5pm on the dot, he was sprinting out of the office.
Why does culture keep people like Bob sitting in their chair killing time? Let’s just let Bob go home (skip to the last section to see my plan on this).
#3: 40 hours a week is completely arbitrary
Again, you probably know this, but it bears repeating! The five days, 8 hours a week schedule is complete bullshit.
Henry Ford created this schedule when he started building his Model T.
In other words, most of our lives are dictated by the schedule Ford created 100 years ago. Is that the most productive way to spend our time?
#4: Working 40 hours a week means you lose the opportunity to distinguish yourself with a unique benefit
Let’s say you are running a company and want to provide your employees with benefits. They already have healthcare and a 401K through the company system. Still, you want to give a benefit.
According to Drive by Dan Pink, there is no better benefit you can provide than fewer hours.
Letting your employees work to finish their work and then go home has an unbelievable number of benefits:
- Your employees get paid more per hour (they make a salary for 40 hours a week but work fewer hours)
- Your employees are happier. HBR just had a fantastic article about how more free time is a huge driver of happiness.
- The company is more productive and profitable
That’s a ton of benefits. Perhaps the most important is that employees never leave. Once they, and their families, become accustomed to working less than 40 hours a week, they’ll never leave for a company that works the standard 40.
I’ll put my money where my mouth is: my employees will never work 40 hours a week
So we just ran through four reasons why 40 hours a week doesn’t make any sense at all. That in itself is not surprising, there are lots of articles on the internet that make a similar claim.
What’s different about this article is that I’ll put my money where my mouth is and publicly make this pledge: my employees will never work 40 hours a week.
I’ve started a few businesses like dropshipping and Ten Minute MBA, but I still work as an MBB management consultant. While I’ve served as a manager before, it’s only a matter of time until I move to a startup as a senior executive.
Once there, anyone who works for me will never work 40 hours a week. While the company is just starting up, there will likely be a big hustle and grind to get to a steady state success. As we talked about in section #1, we’re talking about 60+ hours a week.
But once we reach that steady state, it’s a different story. The business case to work less than 40 hours is just too strong and my employees won’t work that.
Here’s my plan: institute a four day work week and a ROWE.
I’ll write a whole essay on how to implement these two initiatives. The overall plan though is you only work when you have work to do. That’s the ROWE (Results Only Work Environment).
However, there’s also a mandatory day off during the week. That will be Wednesday.
Meaning, you only work when you have stuff to do and you can’t work Wednesdays.
Ten Minute MBA is about being the best possible people we can be. So let’s never work 40 hours a week
Being the best we possibly can is the goal of Ten Minute MBA. We believe success is our responsibility and that hard, consistent work is the key to success.
So let’s not let an arbitrary 40 hour work week handicap us. Let’s work either more or less, depending on our context, so we can take advantage of the research that proves it’s the best thing for us.