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.


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.


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




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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  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!

    • 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.

      • 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. (

        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! (

        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.

        • AR says

          You have no idea what your talking about. My job would break your body in a day. And these past 4 weeks I’m working 70 hrs because things are in shambles. I haven’t seen my wife in her waking hours in almost 2 weeks. I haven’t done anything except try to grasp for sleep and eat what I can when I can. At this point my legs are so tired from lifting that its hard to keep my balance even when walking. Your work isn’t work. You want to talk about the majority so bad why don’t you go do some work on a roof as a tile carry boy. Or a post hole digger for a fencing company. You know what you’ve done. And I can tell you right now. If there is anything in your un working life that you remotely care about. Anything more than 60 hrs makes it impossible to do anything with it. America has brain washed people like you into production drones. Because you want more money? When your laying on your death bed what will you be thinking about? All that money you worked so hard to make that you can’t take with you? Or all the time you missed out spending time doing the things you love or being with those you love.

          • AR says

            And you sleep 5 hrs a night. Lol. Wow. If only that could give me what I need to do the job I do. I make good money. Come to work with 5 hrs of sleep? Never. At some jobs you can get someone killed from the consequences of sleeping that little. Get out of here. This is obviously a job where you sit in a chair all day. If I had a desk job your point MIGHT be valid.

          • Fermi's Paradox says

            Sounds like you need to change jobs AR. Gain skills, interest and determination in a more marketable occupation, the money will follow. That’s what the vast majority of people do and they get ahead as a result. Otherwise, we’d all be Wal-Mart greeters or leaf rakers demanding $50 an hour.

        • Rob says

          This is the most retarded advise and outlook I have ever seen. Working 40 hours a week is way way way to much time to be slaving away… especially if you work for other people. Wealth = how much time off and freedom you have. Telling people to just work more hours is STUPID! Whats the point? Why not earn much more per hour and work way less hours? That sounds like a better option. Who cares how much money you make at the end of the week if you have no time off to enjoy it. Who cares if you pull in 2k per week if you work 55 or 60 hours. Thats only 33$ and hour or so… WEAK SAUCE!!! NO ONE who is on their death bead says… “Dang if I only would have worked 4 more hours per day I could have made more money.” NO people say I wish I would have taken more risks, I wish I would have WORKED LESS, I wish I would have followed my passion, etc. If your passion is to work. COOL do it. But for the rest of us who have other passions and talents working 40 plus hours a week is just a waste of time and really does not put us ahead in any way.

  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.

    • Fermi's Paradox says

      Spoken like a true socialist! If you only knew what you were talking about. BTW: the best way to lose a fortune is to go into business thinking you’re going to live off other people’s hard work. That’s a recipe for failure. And when it comes to creating successful businesses there are far more failures than successes, they are just not talked about as much.

  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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  7. KittyMystix says

    Is everyone here working a job that doesn’t pay minimum wage? I wish I could work more than 40 hours a week, but unfortunately the only job I managed to get at the moment will not give me more hours even though I have expressed that I want them. I want to save money, get a car, pay for college, while going to college, and I have had no help from anyone. I live on my own, and don’t make enough money to have anything extra after bills. I get paid minimum wage, but taxes take about 10 hours of my work pay a week. I don’t really think it is unreasonable to complain? I constant put in applications, resumes, and look for a job walking everywhere because I do not have a car. Golly Gee I wish I could choose where I get a job, how much I make, and how much I work. How dare we peasants complain about not getting ahead. I can understand some people being lazy, but how much work does one have to do? Does everyone have to work so much that they have no time for loved ones or to be productive other than acting like a robot at a dead end job.

    • Kevin says

      Yeah, I had to kill myself (deep depression, nihilism, derealization, yet held down a job/gained ground for years).

      If you want things to get easier, you can (a) wait for them to (they might actually start getting easier as more technology emerges) (b) do what I did and be bleeding internally on an emotional level for several solid years. It can pay off if you have a halfway decent plan, which I did. The world where pain doesn’t exist is coming, but it isn’t here yet.

      Self teach, if you can. Internet is good. Fewer and fewer businesses care if you have a degree. Be smart, be competent, have good attitude, have integrity. I got my first two career type jobs with no degree, the first of which I didn’t even have a HS diploma (I was 15 though at the time).

  8. Kevin says

    I want to point out, for those who have a good attitude and are willing to work, most jobs are moving away from requiring formal education… I got my first two “career” type jobs with no degree, the first without a high school diploma in fact (I was a freshman in high school when I got it) But even in recent years, I’ve had superiors making more than me with no degree. Basically, have a good attitude, know your shi*, be willing to learn and grow (and not stagnate) and you should be able to make what I am making. The internet can teach you to do anything, if you can squeeze in the time to learn. Bits a day are all it takes, but my job is to always be learning (never the exact same skillset for long) so that can be pretty tiring. Employers are going to value that most though… are you willing to have your skillset constantly be shifting over time? The work to stay dynamic in your skillset is the hardest part. I’ll give it away, I am a software engineer… right now there are more jobs than workers for my (one active) skillset, and it pays 90k a year on average (I’m still shy of that atm just yet). Check out if you want the internet to teach you the skills to make 90k a year (for free).

    So, more directly targeting your questions to the reader, I’m a 26 year old in great physical shape (martial artist in multiple styles) and my whole body hurts after 40 hours in a cubicle.

    I’m an SPSer though (see: with a 183 IQ. I would love to work 24 hours a week, after that it becomes exhausting.

    To your question… if you enjoy 80 hours of work a week, you are not one of my species (we are still approximately the same species overall) I never experience boredom (literally, I have yet to encounter it) I just start reading or learning new skills automatically when I run out of things to do (I’m an autodidact, I self teach faster than a teacher can teach me) Being under someone else’s authority though, is about the worst thing ever. I’d take a 50% pay cut if it meant my supervisor didn’t care (at all). I tend to want to do excessively creative, impractical or mad-sciencey things in the work place and out, and I suspect I’d be richer by now if I had never signed up for a day job in the first place.

    I have 100,000 hours of productive things I wish I could be working on that my day job is keeping me from. Several careers I’d rather have that I am working toward (many that are more like hobbies, but some could pay seven figures, in extreme cases)

    Incidentally there is an article on LinkedIn going around that suggests that by 2050, the unemployment rate will be 90%, but by then, having a job won’t matter (machines will even do the thinking jobs, and minimum wage will be a living wage because nothing will cost very much by then) By that point, supporting the lower class via socialism will actually be viable / sustainable (I think some agricultural innovations and probably revolutions will be necessary (like why are we still burning perfectly good crops to make food more expensive again? My home state is literally starving)) I am actually planning to try my hand in robotics and agriculture in the next few years, if I get the chance, which by my current calculations, I will.

    But the days of not needing a job (for real) are closer than you think… just a few more decades. To me, the best thing anyone can do, if possible, is just reach a little further inside yourself than the day before (something I am still cultivating in myself) increase your capacity to give or work or learn over what it used to be. One day it will be the reason you made it through whatever hell seemed like it was going to kill you. I definitely believed I was going to fail at life for most of mine, it’s the reason I am constantly cramming more knowledge and skillsets into my whatchema-thingie.

    Lastly, the millenial generation is being projected to be a great entrepreneurial generation, something like 70% of the workforce could wind up being successful entrepreneurs. Studies link my generation (born 1982-199x) as being better managers (better, more aggressive company growth) than previous generations anyway… significantly greater growth when a company has millenials in charge than doesn’t. That being said, it’s being projected that the great corporations could dissolve entirely, and in theory, a nation with 100,000 small-to-mid size but healthy companies could be a lot healthier for the world at large than one with 5,000 larger ones.

    Embrace the changes. Things are going to get easier for those who can’t, and harder for those who can. At some point, the only skillset that will matter will be the able to continuously change. And if you can’t, so be it. You’re still okay.

  9. Kevin says

    I want to point out, for those who have a good attitude and are willing to work, most jobs are moving away from requiring formal education… I got my first two “career” type jobs with no degree, the first without a high school diploma in fact (I was a freshman in high school when I got it) But even in recent years, I’ve had superiors making more than me with no degree. Basically, have a good attitude, know your shi*, be willing to learn and grow (and not stagnate) and you should be able to make what I am making. The internet can teach you to do anything, if you can squeeze in the time to learn. Bits a day are all it takes, but my job is to always be learning (never the exact same skillset for long) so that can be pretty tiring. Employers are going to value that most though… are you willing to have your skillset constantly be shifting over time? The work to stay dynamic in your skillset is the hardest part. I’ll give it away, I am a software engineer… right now there are more jobs than workers for my (one active) skillset, and it pays 90k a year on average (I’m still shy of that atm just yet). Check out if you want the internet to teach you the skills to make 90k a year (for free). This sounds like an ad, so if you’re suspicious, do your own internet research for what websites will teach you to code for free (there are a handful, and any choice is fine).

  10. Heather says

    I disagree with the idea that you must work 60+ hours per week to be successful. Now, I am a 30 year old female engineer with a few years of experience in industry, and I am finishing up a PhD this year. I take pride in my work, and in my work ethic. I have logged over 90 hours in my lab in the past 9 days, while approaching a deadline. I also worked as a waitress for 6 1/2 years while I was studying, and I have zero debt. And I am frustrated with how difficult it is to find a good job after grad school, even with prior work experience as an engineer, but that’s a separate issue.

    I have been looking for a place to make this argument. I don’t want to work 60-70 hour weeks forever in order to move forward in a career, and I don’t think I should have to. I’m 30, in a stable relationship and financially stable, and I want to have a couple of kids in the next few years. I want to continue contributing to society, and I want to keep moving forward with my career. I want to reap the benefits from this advanced study, and I want to repay society for providing me with this education. And I want to be able to afford to give my kids what I want them to have. But they will require a lot of my time. I don’t want to miss their childhoods. That is too important. I want to breastfeed, I want to read to them most evenings, and I want to be there for the little league games. There is no way I can keep up these hours when I have to add ~4~5 more hours of responsibility to every day. I should not lose credit for the work I’ve done to date, and my average pay per hour should not go down. I don’t expect to be paid the same for doing less work once I’m a parent. I do expect to do the same, or better, quality work – just less of it. I should have the option of working 2/3 the hours (40 hours instead of 60) for half the pay plus benefits, so my cost to the company per hour of work remains about the same. And I should maintain the same status in the company, remain eligible for promotions (though they may take longer to attain), stay in my professional network, and still be respected by my peers – even though I’m working fewer hours. That 40 hour week should be enough to support myself and my kids – not get rich – but it should be enough.

    Then, as my kids grow older and require less of my time, I should be able to step right back onto the corporate ladder, right where I left off. I should not have to restart or reinvent myself because I had other commitments that prevented me from working 60+ hours for a few years. This is not the only life circumstance that could take time away from work. But it is the circumstance of half of the population – for every mother – and every one of us has a mother. Maybe the lady on the bus was tired because she had to leave work and put in 3 or 4 or 5 more hours of work into caring for her child.

    • Fermi's Paradox says

      Heather, unfortunately, you don’t make the rules. The “I should be able to” is an empty statement. The marketplace for labor makes the rules. You will have to adjust your expectations, nothing wrong with that. You can not work at all, as many women do when they have children. It’s every bit as honorable, perhaps more, than a career. But you can’t expect to have everything according to your own model of the world.

      • Heather says

        That is a completely unfair and chauvinist assessment. The statement “I should be able to” is about my right to fair access to the free market, not about me making my own rules. The marketplace for labor (i.e. customer) absolutely makes the rules, but the market does not make this all-or-nothing sixty hour rule, corporate leaders do. It is a carry over from an earlier male dominated workplace society. The free market would allow me to work as little or (almost) as much as I want, and it would pay me according to my output, because I have developed highly specialized and highly marketable skills. I said that if I could reduce my hours, I would accept a lower salary, but not less pay per hour of work. By “I should be able to”, I mean it is my right to make that choice on the balance between my two major contributions to society – my work and my children. And it is unfair for business leaders to set rules that are different from the market requirements, just for their own convenience and to push women out. If I had the choice to reduce my hours for a few years, and I was not promoted in that time period, that would be fair; it would not be fair if my status in the company was at all reduced as a result. It is the same for my hourly pay (including benefits). I have worked very smart and very hard to this point, and I have proved that I am willing to do so. Why should I be forced to do all or nothing – 60+ hours, or zero and throw away my entire investment forever? The bigger issue is that today’s corporate culture will not allow me to reduce my hours while my children are young, but stay current in my field and in my professional network, and then continue on the same path when they no longer require so much of my time. Corporations require all or nothing, and if I choose nothing, then I have to throw away this entire huge investment in developing marketable skills, because they will not allow me jump back in where I left off after a few years. That is a huge waste for me, and it is an even bigger waste for society, and there are so many many women in similar situations. It is the corporate culture that chooses such inefficiency. The free market is losing out on substantial productivity and innovation by forcing me and so many other women to choose – all or nothing.

        I want to continue making my own contribution to society through my work, and I want to set that example for my children. For me, that is the honorable thing to do.

        • Fermi's Paradox says

          Wow, you’re a bit like the pot calling the kettle black. Look who’s the chauvinist with the arguably blanket bigoted statements like “male dominated workplace society.” Don’t throw that meme at me, you think it inoculates you from criticism for your sorrow? There was nothing like that in my comment, you should be ashamed. Just as a point of reference, I am married to a well educated technology professional who would never dream of saying that.

          Yes, there is unfounded bias out there, but that does not mean IN THE REAL WORLD that women are in no way different from men in the workforce, particularly when young children are involved. Common sense dictates it is flatly impossible to be the best employee AND be the best mother. It is another one of life’s tradeoffs. Be proud of it that you have the freedom and opportunity to make that tradeoff! Some people are not able to have children or choose not to, so you have the audacity to expect you step in front of them in line or are entitled to something they are not.

          You really must better understand economics and markets as well. There certainly is no monopsony or even oligopsony for your services. You are simply competing with others who are willing to do more than you are willing. And willingness to put in long hours or endure hardships (e.g., travel, special assignments, etc.) are perfect examples of how the best and most valuable employees separate themselves. There is nothing right or wrong with that either way, it’s a choice. That’s what happens when you grow up and become an adult in the work force. Imagine a pro athlete saying, “gosh, I shouldn’t have to put in 60+ hours a week to be at the top of my game”, well good luck with that.

          So you think “business leaders” somehow conspire “and set the rules”? Listen to yourself. Those same “leaders” are not much different than you, they are almost entirely professional and educated employees like you. They’re in the same boat. And you may be one of them some day.

          And what’s this “making my own contribution to society through my work” comment about? So your work is something special relative to others who work hard too and are compensated likewise?

          Use your head.

          • J says

            “That’s what happens when you grow up and become an adult in the work force.”

            I understand the argument you and the original article are making, but I think part of the reason why some people are getting defensive is because of comments like the above. Out of one corner of your mouth you’re saying “If you want to make a lot of money, then put a lot of hours in. If you don’t, then have a nice life and enjoy yourself,” but then out the other corner you’re implying that working less than 40 hours means you’re somehow a child, immature, lazy, etc. There’s always this distinctly condescending tone that just irritates people, especially since it fails to consider alternative lifestyles (single mothers, people caring for the disabled, etc.) or professions that are simply too exhausting (dangerously so) to work over 40 hours. Personally, I don’t want a nurse that’s been working six 12 hour shifts in a row giving me my meds in the hospital. I’d like to live, thanks.

            Just pointing out that your argument and others like them ignore certain points that are worth considering. That’s why you’re getting these shitty reactions from people, instead of actually listening to (or reading in this case) what you have to say.

            • says

              Great perspective. Thank you for sharing.

              I do believe everybody has a chance to get ahead, and not everybody is maximizing all they can to do so. But not everybody has the same magnitude of chance.

  11. tom says

    Here is some advice; if you don’t want to work more than 40 hours….don’t. I don’t. Find something, make it work. Leave at or before 5:00. Our work weeks should not be getting longer with advancements in technology. 20-30 years ago these companies existed WITHOUT computers. If you were longer than you want, you are at the wrong place.

  12. kirayon says

    I wake up at 4 am and get to work by 4:45 and work until 6:00pm with a half hour “lunch” break at 8 am. I am also a full time student taking 16 credits and working a second 20 hour job on the weekends. However, I am not getting ahead. Even with all of the hours I get paid near minimum wage and after taxes and insurance I am still living a good 15% below the poverty line. On top of this I support a disabled person and have to pay off school debts. Each week I put in roughly 82 hours plus put in 20-30 hours for school depending on the week. Anyone who calls golfing or working at McDonalds for 4$ as work are clearly the lazy ones. You don’t get ahead by putting in obscene numbers of hours into a senseless job, you get ahead by making connections and taking advantage of opportunities. I can work triple digit hours for the rest of my life and never get anywhere or I can have my well connected father pull some strings and get me a job sitting on my ass in an office for $35 an hour. I for example make very few connections at my job because surprise surprise I’m actually working. Not the milling about the water cooler and alt tabbing to play candy crush working but stacking pallets and carrying logs working. Most people that are poor are not poor because they don’t work over forty hours. We are poor because we work shit jobs that we are forced into because of our situations. I am never going to get an opportunity to get ahead by making a connection with some guy who has a better position for me working the tail end of a wood mill and my hundred hour work weeks ensure I sure as hell wont have any time for golf. In fact if this were a normal work week I wouldn’t even be able to be on here to post this because I would be working. However, I got injured at my job because I am overworked so I get a nice little unpaid vacation so I can see how out of touch with the world some people are. The problem isn’t not working enough hours, the problem is enormous wage gaps between positions. My father earns in a single bonus more than I do in 5 years and he sits at home with his family watching netflix most days. The trick isn’t to work more hours its to know the right people.

  13. karma says

    Work, work, work, know the right people and earn, earn, earn for wads of money…..

    This is all well and good if that is the only focus in life but, reality for most is much more than expensive cars, homes and clothing etc and of course, there is a very big world out there that does not revolve around the business sector.

    The world at ground level really is a million miles from the world of golf, marketing, tailored suits and such

    I work in the field of learning disabilities, as a one to one carer of 35 hours a week for an extremely difficult young individual. (hours allocated to job description and overtime is not included)
    This individual has excessive physical and mental destructive mannerisms with an additional unnatural behaviourism towards the female species..
    All this is categorized as ‘Learning Disabled’ giving it such a simple description and the world knows nothing of the skills needed to work with any such individual.

    To say my job is difficult is understating the matter considerably, by the end of the 7 hour shift I am both physically and emotionally drained.. At times I have even come home and burst into tears due to the excessively difficult day I have endured, I am fit to drop but, relaxation is, I am sure you will respect, difficult when emotionally charged.

    To give up and walk away would leave an already fragile and vulnerable individual open to a breakdown, as has done each time a past one to one carer has upped and left due to the severity of behaviours… His behaviours worsen every rejection. I am to date the longest one to one carer he has had (coming up to 18 months)

    I have psychological academic skills which makes me a little (only a little) more considerate of his mental dysfunctions and behaviours (I say a little, because it is only natural to find public sexual tendencies and habitual destructiveness difficult to bear).

    Success to me is not about my pay packet (seriously, you dont do a job like mine for the income as it is just above minimum wage which is as ludicrous as it is insulting)
    Success in my mind is that of not giving up on those who rely on you.
    My contribution to society is like the many who do similar to my work, it is enormous despite not noticed by society itself, nor is it acknowledged by those who decide how much my efforts are worth to pay.

    I am not moaning per se, however sometimes I think the business mind forgets the world at ground level and reading your post I believe you to have no real understanding of life outside of your bubble.

    Not having a go at you, just hoping to remind you the world is not run on business alone, many occupations out there, that the business mind views as ‘little people’ are good hard working individuals who in effect keep the world moving daily so are therefore successful in their own right.

    • Fermi's Paradox says

      That’s wonderful Karma, you have found what really satisfies you and rewards you in your work. Congratulations and thanks for all you do! Also, I don’t think people on this post believe the world revolves around business. I think the central point is that choices in life matters. And career choices matter in terms of income. As you have pointed out, there are often significantly greater rewards from one’s career than just what it pays.

  14. Andreea Pescar says

    You know what I don’t understand, as a student still, waiting to enter the workforce: why on earth would I want to work more than 40 hours a week when life is so short and I want to do so many things (hobbies is one of them, time with family and friends)? I mean I would understand if it would be an important cause that would make humanity prosper in a great way. That would make sense to me. But waiting till your retired to do things you love: that’s actually sad to me. If the workload is so big, why don’t they hire more people and share responsability or take shifts ? I bet there are dozen who are looking for a job. I guess if you are money driven, then working 90 hours a week would benefit you. I, instead, think my time is more important, cause hey, we aren’t here forever and I plan to be happy, and I plan that my family would be happy too. I plan to have money enough to sustain me. I don’t want to be rich and have some huge baroque decorated house to show for or a brand new Ferrari. Maybe when children will come, my perspective will shift, and money-making will become more important to me. But overall, I think time is more important than money.

    • Fermi's Paradox says

      That’s great. Although it’s not really fair to characterize those who work many more than 40 hours in their career as “money driven.” I have know many, many people who work like FS describes, they do it because they love it, not because they are chasing the dollar. It’s a bit like saying professional athletes do it for the money. People I have met that don’t like their job or career can never seem to muster up the effort to work hard. And when you work more you do in fact benefit society as a whole, not the other way around. It is simple economics. Imagine what our economy would like if the “standard” wasn’t 40 hours, but something like 4 hours. We’d be back to living in caves.

      • Andreea Pescar says

        Yes, I get you. I guess that if you like what you do, working more hours isn’t such a big deal. I mean, some say that what they are doing are their life. I haven’t experienced that yet. Sorry for generalizing – some people are money driven, and that’s not such a bad thing if that’s what you want and plan to do something meaningfull with it.

        • Fermi's Paradox says

          Well, I guess “meaningful” is in the eyes of the beholder. If they wanted to take the money and burn it, it’s up to them, they earned it, it’s their property.

          • Troll says

            Actually, they can’t burn it. :P

            C&P off of NBC: Specifically, this is a violation of Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code, which says that “whoever mutilates, cuts, disfigures, perforates, unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, Federal Reserve Bank, or Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such item(s) unfit to be reissued, shall be fined not more than $100 or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.”

  15. Josh says

    Why trade 5 days for 2, your whole life, then retire old and senile…
    Because that’s life?

    Pretty pessimistic crappy answer if you ask me.

    If we built this fast paced and rapidly expanding world, for anything at all… It’s not to drone away over half of our waking life, in some environment that’s not particularly enjoyable to exist in. It’s the exact opposite.

    We have a right, as conscious and inquisitive living things, to ask that question. Is it really worth it? Especially if our psyche isn’t necessarily any better off.

    When are we going to see a collective increase in happiness, coinciding with shorter working hours, not longer ones?

    Isn’t that what all this technological advancement is actually for?

    • Fermi's Paradox says

      Josh, it’s indeed very sad that you see life that way. Most who work hard see it as the opposite. They get a lot of reward (besides money) from their hard work and commitment, particularly a commitment to themselves and their families. But you are free to choose either way.

      And it is indeed scary that you somehow see “a collective increase in happiness” as apparently taking precedence over individuals seeking happiness on their own. E.g., some working longer hours if they like, others not so much. It sounds like you would sacrifice the rights of individuals to seek their own happiness on the alter of “collective” will.

  16. Shasta Jones says

    I work 40 hours a week. I spend 10 hours a week commuting. I suppose the work I do at home and don’t get a paycheck for is not work. At least by preparing my meals I don’t have to pay someone else to make my meals for me and I don’t get taxed on the money either. It’s also hard enough to find a job that will give me 40 hours a week.

  17. des999 says

    I must be spoiled, I work in IT, and have for the last 14 years, and I rarely work more than 40 hours a week. I make $96,000 / year. I am oncall one week a month (calls range from none to 3). I work hard while I am at work, but honestly I could do my job most weeks in 30 hours. I find it ridiculous that corporate america wants us to be here 40 hours, when, if you are efficient, most of us could get our jobs done in less hours.

    I know for me, I see wasted hours every day on the job. I see 1.5+ lunches, chatting constantly, meetings with much wasted time. All in the name of putting in the hours. I feel strongly in doing a good job and working hard. If it requires 50 or 60 hours then by all means. But I don’t agree that we should just be there to be there.

    I guess everyones personality is different, and everyone thrives in different settings, but me personally, I’d rather have my own personal time to decide when to work, as long as the work gets done.

    I would shoot myself if I had to work 60 hrs a week, unless someone paid me 200,000+ /year, no way I’d do it.

    • says

      If you are happy with making $96,000 a year, that is all that matters.

      I wanted to make $500,000 a year, and knew I had to work harder if I wanted to achieve that figure. The point is if I wanted $500k/year and wasnt Willing to work that much, then I would be totally stupid and irrational.

      • des999 says

        I gotcha, I didn’t realize we were talking about that kind of monies :)

        It is my experience that most people that make that kind of money love working and aren’t looking to retire early. I assume you might be more in the minority, but I may be wrong.

        I have thought recently of taking on a job with more hours, more stress, but for much more money. But the only reason would be to bank as much as possible for as long as I could stand it. And then go do something more fun like financial advisor, or teacher, or something in which my salary didn’t matter as I have a ton of cash in the bank.

  18. says

    The society we live in has turned people into one of two things: miserable cogs in a machine, or viscous animals clawing their way into the machine’s control room.

    I choose to avoid the machine altogether. It doesn’t bring people happiness. Not really. To the cogs it brings a sense of security, and to the animals it brings a sense of carnal delight at having asserted themselves over their inferiors, but neither will ever be content. It is against the nature of the machine to be content.

  19. Rama says

    I understand what your saying about being productive but you mentioned in your article that you weren’t skilled enough to get your work done in 40 hours a week or less. The claim could be made that if you double your skill and efficiency that you could get done in 40 hours a week what used to take 80 hours.

    As to the woman on the bus complaining in the bus, you can’t make a straight hours to hours comparison. If her work is more physically demanding than yours than 40 hours of work might take more out of her than 80 hours in your field does.

    You say people complain that they can’t get ahead while they only work 40 hours or less a week. Fair enough but then I can say the same about people who complain they they don’t have time for dating, spending time with friends and family etc. while they work 80 hours a week ( I am not saying that you do but I have heard this as well)

  20. David says

    I think FS has a career that was based on results. It was competitive. I can see how it is with my friends in the banking industry, the more money they bring in the more money they make. It’s an industry where what you put into it has a dramatic affect on the rewards.

    Most industries are not like that of course. In a top law firm the highest paid lawyer may make 10x the lowest paid lawyer. I wish that were the case in my industry. I’m an engineer and the top engineer may make 2x the lowest paid engineers and how hard you work or how long you work doesn’t translate to getting ahead.

    You know what does, luck. You have to be lucky enough to have opportunity dropped in your lap, then be talented enough to come through.

    I work very hard just because it’s in my nature, it’s the way I’m wired. I’m now working in my third company and was lucky enough to have that opportunity put in front of me. I didn’t deserve it more than anyone else, just right place and right time. A couple people were in it before me but were not talented enough to get the job done, and I was. I got on the ground floor of a new flagship product that was successful and now I’m among the highest paid engineers in the company. Sadly I could complain that I’m not making millions but that’s not in my nature either. I’m doing what I was meant to do in life.

    But I do recognize that a more talented engineer in the company can work 24hrs a day 7 days a week and he still may not get ahead. Why, because being talented and working hard is not directly correlated to getting ahead. At least not in most industries. In the same way a super hardworking high school teacher does not have a path to billionaire status working hard at teaching. You could argue that he can do something else. But the statement that working hard/long will translate to financial success for everybody is going to fail the universality test.
    Because we wouldn’t have people doing the jobs that society requires for everybody to succeed.

    So I’m going to say as a person that’s about as successful as I could possibly get at what I do (mostly because I was lucky, my talent is useless without that rare opportunity), that I don’t blame people who complain that they can’t get ahead. Because for most, they can’t get ahead no matter what they do. Society simply doesn’t work that way. Their simply isn’t a path for everybody to get ahead. Anybody can, but everybody can’t no matter what. I understand what FS is saying, but I think some deserve a little complaining if they want in my opinion.

  21. Gary says

    You don’t believe in or would pay overtime and you tell people “…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!”

    You’re a compassionate guy, aren’t you? You’re probably in favor of everyone getting a “salary” so that you could work them like a horse and circumvent the country’s labor laws.

    You may as well tell your adherents, “Hey, pay them $3.78 per hour and tell them they can make $33K per year easy. Just work 8736 hours. That’s only 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you wimp.” Bet you’d like that.

    • Fermi's Paradox says

      Gary, yours is just a nonsensical attack on FS. He is simply illustrating the even working in the lowest skill and pay jobs in our economy you can fairly easily break the 50% mark. Moreover, it is up to the individual to gain skills and pursue work in areas that are in demand and as a result, pay well. It’s not the role of the “economy” to fashion itself in a way to pay workers a set minimum wage for whatever they want to do. The economy will crater. Supply and demand is how the economy most effectively allocates resources to the most productive ends. Pay attention to what the economy demands (in terms of jobs), adjust to it and you will do well (unless of course you are otherwise mentally or physically handicapped).

  22. RC says

    I make decent money, but I consistently work well over 50 hours a week very week, often 65+. I am required to work every other saturday (which means most weeks I work 6+ days). I take 20 minutes for lunch, and work at a frantic pace all day long. The problem with efficiency, is it requires the managers/owners to invest in staff and software. When 1 person has to handle all the bookkeeping, payroll, filing taxes and reports, and take dozens of random calls every day, it’s impossible to be efficient. Larger companies can specialize tasks, but not so with many smaller companies with limited staff. And I can’t create lean processes, because every 5 minutes I’m interrupted to handle another unrelated issue. Those who work 40 hours a week and go play golf with clients or take an hour or two to workout at lunch are plain lucky. You know in this economy, you take the job that is available when you need a job. This year, I’ve taken one lunch that was over 30 minutes long–and that was to meet with my CPA firm. It’s a luck of the draw whether you’ll get in with a great company…or get stuck with a company that is more than happy wringing you for all your worth.

      • Fermi's Paradox says

        It doesn’t sound like he’s over 65, but he sometimes has to work over 65 hours/week. I could be missing something.

    • Fermi's Paradox says

      Getting in with a great company that satisfies you and pays well is most definitely NOT the luck of the draw. That’s the whole point.

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