We Work Too Hard

In 1930, British Economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that 100 years in the future the standard full-time work week would have been whittled down to just 15 hours a week. In the 85 years since that prediction was made the world has changed at a breakneck pace. However, the standard 40 hours, Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm workweek has been remarkably consistent.

Typically companies recognize 10 holidays, and give their employees about 15 days (3 weeks) of vacation per year. This adds up to 1,880 hours of work per year, for a full time job. This doesn’t count the time spent doing work-related activities such as commuting to and from the office, which is almost an hour round trip on average. Furthermore, even if employees are scheduled to work 40 hours per week, they actually put in closer to 47, and also only use about half of their allotted vacation days. Using those more realistic numbers, that means that a full time salaried employee is working closer to 2,500 hours per year.

Assuming the average worker sleeps 8 hours a night, that leaves 5,840 hours per year of conscience existence. Nearly half of this time (2,500 hours) is spent at work - which is downright dreadful and literally a waste of a person's time. Working too hard is one of the most common regrets people have in life. Instead of spending time with their families, pursuing their dreams, or simply enjoying life’s little moments, they slaved away at work.

While it should always be an option to work long hours for those with passion for what they do, or a strong desire to make a lot of money, it shouldn’t be required just to get by. We still have 15 years left to make John Maynard Keynes prediction of a 15 hour average work week come true. Even if we don’t hit that goal exactly we as a society should be aiming to move towards the direction of less work.

Time is the most precious of all resources. Not money. Not oil. Not land. Not diamonds. Time. Maintaining and growing our economic output while lessening the amount of time people need to spend working should be one of our most important societal aspirations. With rapidly advancing technological improvements including robots and artificial intelligence, combined with some better public policy I'm hopeful that we will be able to achieve this. I'm hopeful that we can live in a world where people don't regret having worked too hard, but are satisfied with a lifetime well spent.