Are There Really People Who Only Work 40 Hours A Week Or Less And Complain Why They Can’t Get Ahead?

Sleepy CatThere have been a number of data points recently that have caught me off guard. Apparently, there are people in this world who actually work 40 hours a week or less and complain why they can’t get ahead! I understand if you are retired, a student, handicapped, or under-employed how you might not work 40 hours a week. But, I’ve only heard about places like France where people work less than 40 hours a week and start going on strike if they have to work more!

Working 40 hours a week or less is fantastic if you are happy with your income and career, not bored out of your mind, and can get away with it. Unfortunately, I am neither skilled enough to do what I want with that little amount of time, nor do I have the courage to work so little for what I am being compensated for. I think I would probably get fired if I worked that little. Besides, I have about 80 hours of work energy in me a week now. Might as well utilize it before it fades.  How about you?

Data point #1: Two women on the bus were chatting next to me and explaining what a long day at work they had. It was 6:30pm and one woman said, “Thank goodness the day is over! I got in an hour early at 8:30am and am absolutely exhausted!” She’s exhausted for being in the office for 10 hours with an hour long lunch break? Sign me up!

Data point #2: For some reason, my article “How Much Do The Top Income Earners Make By Percentage?” continues to get random commenters (1,000+ now) who turn the simple question into a political and social debate about why the rich should be paying more taxes, and the lower 50% should be paying even less taxes. One commenter says I’m out of touch with reality when I explain that anybody who really wants to be in the Top 50% of income earners ($33,000) can do so if they wanted to. All you have to do is work 63 hours a week at $10 to make $33,000 a year! He says that’s ridiculous as he can’t make that working 40 hours a week (no kidding).

Data point #3: My friend in HR said her firm is implementing overtime compensation for certain level of workers who work more than 40 hours a week. I asked her why her firm was rewarding their workers for working hours they’re supposed to anyway? That’s like rewarding the cable guy who comes within the allotted window! She giggled and shrugged. If I am the CEO, and you command overtime compensation for working more than 40 hours a week, I will do my best to refer you to my competitor to blow them up.

Data point #4: A blogger who moved to a foreign country to experience location independence, swims for hours a day, “works” about 30 hours a week and says he’s burned out. He’s upset that he’s not making more than $1,000-$2,000 a month with his infoproducts and online job opportunities. He’s so burned out that he took a week off to re-charge his batteries. In other words, he took a vacation from his vacation.  You’d think as a full-time blogger working 3-5 hours a day that you’d probably post every day and never burn out. But, he only posts 2 to 3X a week and writes that he’s frustrated nobody has given him a book deal. Come on now. $1,000-$2,000 ain’t too shabby for kicking back!

Data point #5: I was meeting a potential business partner for coffee downstairs at the consulting gig I’m working at. There were four 20-something year olds just lounging in these recliners, surfing the web, and doing absolutely nothing but goof off for the entire 1.25 hours I was there. One guy starts saying how his firm hired someone senior than him to do his job, and how angry he was for not being recognized more. Then this other guy who was listening to music off his laptop chimes in that he’s been looking for a programming job for months. This is San Francisco, where if you have programming skills, you are hired for $100,000 at 25 years old. Watching YouTube videos, surfing the web, and playing games on your laptop at a coffee shop during the middle of the day does not get you anywhere. Taking 1.25 hour coffee breaks in the afternoon if you are working doesn’t not help you get promoted either.

DO PEOPLE REALLY ONLY WORK 40 HOURS A WEEK OR LESS?

Are there really people out there who only work 40 hours or less a week and complain about why they can’t get ahead or make enough money? That’s like slacking off in school and expecting Google to hire you for big bucks. Ain’t gonna happen. I don’t think I’ve ever worked less than 40 hours a week when healthy. Day job work is around 55-60 hours a week and online work is another 20 hours of fun work a week for a total of 75-80 hours. Add on 35-42 hours a week for sleep, that still leaves 50 hours a week to spend with family, friends, and extracurricular activities. It’s not like the 75-80 hours a week spent on work is all just work either. It’s fun to interact online, go play golf with clients, get some lunch and earn some income in the process.

Perhaps society has manipulated people into believing that 40 hours a week is a normal time to spend on the job or on an endeavor.  There are two ways to get ahead: 1) Work harder and smarter than everybody else and 2) Make everybody else work less and dumber. If you ask any super successful person how many hours a week they work I can guarantee you that it’s way more than 40 hours a week.

Do you think President Obama works only 40 hours a week? Hell no! He regularly works 60-70 hours a week and is on call 24-7. Do you think Mark Zuckerberg works 40 hours a week?  He worked around the clock to build Facebook to what it is today. Do you think doctors don’t study night and day for their MCATs to then go on single digit work hour rounds? The answer is “no”, and you know that.

40 HOURS A WEEK IS A WALK IN THE PARK, SO JUST BE HAPPY

If you can work 40 hours a week and be satisfied with what you have, more power to you. I definitely plan to work less than 40 hours a week during retirement. However, if you are complaining about life and why you don’t have enough money and only work 40 hours a week, you need to get your head checked. We live in a very competitive society and anybody who wants to be better than average can’t work 40 hours and expect to be more than they’re not.

Update 10/16/2013: I retired because I no longer want to work more than 40 hours a week! Instead, I’m working 15-20 hours a week on building passive income so I don’t have to work anymore.

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Updated: 5/28/2014

Regards,

Sam

 

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. ken tanner says

    take this into consideration i live in Michigan and work on a potato farm all year not seasonally i get about 55hrs a week minimum but i don’t get overtime its a straight wage right thru and it fucking sucks this weeks check 53hrs and about $309 dig that I WANT OVERTIME i have a child to feed!

    • Kai says

      I enjoy your blog and find it valuable, but wish it was more relatable to a majority of people who could benefit from your expertise. This seems to be catored to upper-class people who actually wouldnt need your advise, and boarders on classist, out of touch, and at some points offensive.

      I think this article may be a little skewed for two reasons:

      1) increased work in industrial society can be psychologically unhealthy. In the documentary “happy” one of the most sucessful developing countries featured is Japan, where working oneself to death is socially considered an honor. Living in a world that continually disreguards normal rest and recreation in support of “getting ahead” may actually be harming the social fabric of our cultures and the health of individuals. In other words, I think you should be able to work 25-40 hours a week, earn a living wage, and have hobbies and community projects on the side. Growing class inequity is making that kind of lifestyle increasingly challenging– primarily the assumption that “getting ahead” requires sleep and social deprivation compounds this degredation of society.

      2) “It’s fun to interact online, go play golf with clients…” I’m surprised you didn’t see how histerical this comment might be to the average reader. Golfing with clients may be “work” for you, but is something a majority of the working population would see as laughably out of touch. If I counted my waking hours as part of my work week, then yes, from 5am to 11pm each day I am “on”, buying groceries to pack lunches, managing web projects, commuting to work, earning a living and managing my finances could encompass all of the work I do to progress in life (my “day job” is 40 hours). It’s much easier to tout a 70 hour work week when it includes net surfing and client play dates, meanwhile the average worker is being timed on their ten minute smoke break.

      Working in entry level positions for typical corporate employers IS exhausting, depending on the management style, level of personal freedom and what is considered “work”. Personally, in my day job I often do manual labor outdoors for research projects, we work in 90 degree heat some days over extremely rough terraine. 5 hours out in the field with us you’d be ready to call it a day. ;) It sounds as if you’ve never had a real job working for anyone. Theres a difference between working hard for yourself (an 80 hour week of joy) and the sometimes soul-sucking existance of waiting for the weekend. The exhaustion your shocked about is probably directly coorilated to your level of schedule flexibility, freedom, and lack of supervision stress.

      One things for sure we can probably both agree on– work burn out has nothing to do with hours worked, and everything to do with the kind of work you are doing.

      • Financial Samurai says

        I used to work for $4 an hour at McDonald’s and other more physically demanding jobs. I think b/c I worked those jobs that made me really appreciate working hard now and doing everything possible in order to NOT do these jobs for my life. (http://www.financialsamurai.com/worst-bad-jobs-that-can-make-you-rich-and-happy/)

        As you say, life is about balance, and after working my butt off for 13 years, I retired from Corporate America in 2012. Working hard to gain financial freedom is WORTH IT! (http://www.financialsamurai.com/taking-a-leap-of-faith-retiring-on-own-terms/)

        Nobody is going to save us when we no longer work. Not the government, not our employers. Those who think this post is “classist” are simply finding an excuse for not waking up before everyone else and leaving later than everyone else. Hard work takes no skill.

        The follow up question I have for you is: Do you COMPLAIN why you can’t get ahead? It doesn’t sound like you are, so this post is irrelevant to you because you are doing your best and accepting what your best is giving you.

  2. Johnny says

    The only way to make more money is to convince people to work for you so that you can use their man hours towards your paycheck. With that said, if you are constantly working 70-80 hours a week and not starting a business, than you’re not “getting ahead” at all; rather, you’re just fighting to sustain your lifestyle. Even CEOs that are getting paid a million dollars a year to run major corporations never see the kinds of profits that the majority share holders of a company are seeing and I guarantee you not all shareholders are working over 40 hours a week. In fact I bet a lot of people who are majority shareholders aren’t even working at all. I didn’t really like your article because it had a real snarky work harder not smarter attitude. I’m not interested in working long hours in life because I don’t enjoy working, but I sure hope I find some brainwashed motivated people like you to invest in for the future.

  3. DoveArrow says

    While I agree that people who take 90 minute coffee breaks have no room to complain that they aren’t getting promoted, I do think that there is a tendency to reward people who are busy rather than people who are efficient. When I start a job, I usually take the first year to examine processes, figure out the most efficient way to do them, and implement those efficiencies. This sometimes takes a little bit of computer programming, some figuring out how to use the Microsoft Office Suite more effectively, and perhaps even changing a few office policies. Invariably, these changes cut anywhere from 2-4 hours of wasted time out of my day.

    Now compare what I do to my co-workers. Many of them can barely open a spreadsheet, much less use one. When looking for duplicates on two separate spreadsheets, they will print out both and go through them laboriously line-by-line, rather than running a simple query in Access. They don’t know what a Mail Merge is, they think that learning to program is a waste of their time, and when it comes to office policies, they’d rather die than change the way things are. As a result, they work 50-60 hours a week in order to get everything done.

    Now here’s the rub. I have seen people like my co-workers, who make less efficient use of their time, get rewarded with overtime and promotions time and again. People like me, who are more efficient and innovative, get rewarded with laborious, boring shit jobs that need to get done, but nobody else has time to do. That’s because busyness in our culture is equated with ambition whereas efficiency is overlooked and often equated with laziness.

    Now you may think that this is just hearsay and that my co-workers are probably still more productive than I am simply because they’re working longer hours. However, study after study has shown that people who work 60 hour weeks are no more productive than people who work 40 hours per week. In fact, entrepreneurs, like Henry Ford, and even whole countries, like Germany, have demonstrated over and over again that paying people more to work less hours more efficiently do far better than their competitors who work people harder for less pay but more overtime.

    Now granted, there are times when people are more productive when working long hours. For example, in short sprints to meet a particular deadline, people can be more productive working 60 hour weeks. Also, people who are socially awkward and have the laser-like focus of a high functioning autistic can work long hours while forgetting to do things like eat and sleep. (This is one of the reasons the tech industry took off.) However, these are the exceptions, not the norm. For the rest of us, working 60 hours per week leaves us more stressed out, less fulfilled, less innovative, and more sleep deprived. There’s also the environmental impact, since people who have less time tend to drive more and take advantage of high energy consuming conveniences.

    You think that working long hours is a sign of ambition. I, however, think that it could just as easily be a sign that you aren’t using your time as efficiently and as effectively as you could. You might take objection to that, but then again, you’re the one that’s telling me working 40 hours a week is a sign of laziness and not efficiency.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Those are some good points about business and efficiency.

      However, I would encourage people to be busy and efficient. That’s how a lot of people really get aheads. It’s a double win.

  4. Gary says

    Hey Sam I’m enjoying my thursday going threw your blog and this one in particular stood out because I do agree that americans are fat, selfish, stupid, lazy and just general garbage of the world but I don’t blame the Individual because our society is fa ricated to be this way, this is what happens when you put apes in clothes and give them ray guns and computers. Anyhow my point I wanted to make is that I feel your blogs are slightly biased towards the more progressive end of the spectrum and you kind of leave out the people who work in trades and labor industry, where a 40-50 hour week for a healthy 21 year old is a lot to try and manage along with a fullfilling personal life. but even still the way the world is. why would you want to work more than 50 hours a week? Where I come from we make the most of what we have and enjoying life is more important than money or social status. Unless some folks are just so brainwashed to the point that they need that social status to validate there own Self worth.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Gary, welcome to my site.

      I’m obviously going to have my biases, b/c I’m sharing how I see the world. However, if you want to get rich or get promoted faster, then I don’t think a 40 hour week is going to cut it when many people are working much more.

      If you want a more “fulfilling personal life” which does not include money or career, then of course try and relax as much as possible and do something else. If career and money is important, then spend some more time working on your X factor after work.

      Bottom line: Work 40 hours a week or less, but never complain why you can’t get ahead.

  5. L says

    Great points you have here FS.

    I’m curious if you have some advice for me. I’m a designer working at a startup earning ~75% of market value. The job has decent work/life balance, I only work 40-50 hours a week. This means I have a few hours a day I could spend on another project. I realize that for me working is a way to make money. But more than that, I want to make money doing something meaningful and something that I’m good at. Fortunately, I have all of these things. What I don’t have is financial independence. Not even close. I have to budget carefully and pay attention to my student loan payments (just finished grad school 2 years ago before moving to SV).

    I committed to an under-paying but rewarding startup job with high risk but a good culture. So I’ll be there for at least a year. But what I can do is work on the nights and weekends. Or mornings. I am at a crossroads as to what I can do with that time and I’m really lost about what I should do. Do you have any advice?

    I understand that the biggest stressor I have, and have had since graduating undergrad is money. Money or lack of it has always made me make decisions I don’t want to make, but it leaves me without choice. I want to be debt free and with the freedom and options to go for what I really want to do, what I’m really interested in, not just the limited options I have right now in front of me. I want to get out of the “worker” mindset and into that of the creator. I feel as a naturally creative person I can easily create new ideas, but I have little practical application in turning these into money.

    • Fermi's Paradox says

      Pardon me just jumping in here FS.

      L: Being committed to just one year isn’t really much of a commitment, can’t imagine you could expect much from your employer for your “sweat equity.” What you describe though sounds like a reasonable deal if you are just 75% under market UNLESS it is in a field that is in demand, naturally (e.g., engineering, math, medical sciences, etc.). Not clear what kind of “designer” you are.

      L: You also touch upon a real issue people have today and why I am replying. A couple generations ago people went to school and chose vocations to earn the best living they could and achieve financial independence, rarely to go out and do “what they want to do.” It’s just life, most of what we perceive (at a young age) as the really fun, rewarding jobs and the things we want to do are not in demand, create little value and the jobs are over subscribed. I wanted to be an artist and then a professional athlete early on; it wasn’t realistic, I simply do not have the very rare talent to make a living at it. Our economy functions based on demand for the things people most want, and sadly it’s not art or watching some above average athlete (the market does not reward this with money). Perhaps you need to assess your abilities and the marketplace, then choose a career that you can realistically achieve financial independence. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact, it is what we are all obligated to do (i.e., maintain our own financial independence). You can also find personal reward in it as well, it’s a state of mind. Then go out and work on your passion as much as you can, it just may not be an option to make a good living at it.

  6. Marianne says

    8 hours work, 8 hours recreation or family life, 8 hours sleep.

    The only reason you think you have to work 40+ hours per week to get ahead is because in America you have an extremely low minimum wage along with a very low standard of living.
    Frankly, after ten hours in the office, no one is much good for anything no matter how many hours they stay back “working”.
    Of course people should be paid to work overtime, if they agree to work the overtime in the first place.

    • Fermi's Paradox says

      Wow Marianne, what world are you living in? The vast majority of people working well over 40 hours per week are earning nowhere near the minimum wage, far above it. I don’t know any professional that doesn’t work more than 40 hours and on the contrary, they are well capable of going beyond 10 hours a day. It’s just choices.

      The entire minimum wage debate is a canard, it simply means those earning at a hiked minimum wage do it at the expense of others who lost their job – there are far better ways to help the poor than through a minimum wage, it is simple economics. To postulate that “every” job must have a wage to support a family is ridiculous. And you really should try to refrain from blaming America and try to get your facts straight – we have when considering income and purchasing parity (not GDP per capita as many like to taught).

      For example, Norway is considered to have one of in not the highest standard of living in the world (save perhaps Lichtenstein or Kuwait) on a GDP per capita basis, but when considering cost of living (actual purchasing parity) it is below the US. Again, it is simple economics, fewer people work as much in Norway, those who do have to support those who don’t (in that country) which results in much higher taxes and prices comparatively speaking. There is a reason why people flock to the US to chase the American dream and not to Norway, as an example.

      • Fermi's Paradox says

        after “GDP per capita as many like to taught)” add: one of the highest standards of living in the world.

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