One of my most reviled posts is called, Do People Really Only Work 40 Hours A Week Or Less And Complain Why They Can't Get Ahead? The post paints me as an unsympathetic person full of tough love. “Thank you sir! May I have another!”
I wrote the post back in 2011 when I was burning out from working in finance. Every week was a ~60-hour grind of doing the same thing I had been doing since 2009. Whenever I heard someone complain on the bus or online about their single-digit-hour workday, it irked me.
Oh, how I wished for a 9 AM to 5 PM workday. Instead, I was always expected to get in by 6:30 AM and stay connected until 9 PM because I needed to correspond with my colleagues in New York and Asia who were in different time zones.
Wanting to go straight to the corner office without putting in the work is human nature. As an old man now, I empathize with those of you who want six-pack abs while eating donuts every day. Sign me up! Nevertheless, I encourage you to act more rationally if you want to get ahead.
There are extremely smart people out there who are also working extremely hard at their goals. If you're of average intelligence, as I am, it's very difficult to be successful by working normal hours.
The Average Hours Worked Per Week In America
I've learned three things from this Census Bureau data chart below.
1) Working 40 hours a week is enough to get ahead if you are really working 40 hours a week.
2) It's easier than we think to get ahead because the average American worker only works about 34.2 hours a week!
3) More of us are exhausted since the pandemic began because the average hours worked per week has increased by one hour.
35.5 hours: The average hours worked per week in 1979
34.7 hours: The average hours worked a week in 1985
34.3 hours: The average hours worked a week in 1990
34 hours: The average hours worked a week in 2000
33 hours: The average hours worked a week in 2009 declined due to financial crisis
34.2 hours: The average hours worked a week in 2022
The long-term trend for work hours is clearly down.
The Joy Of Working Less For Similar Money
As technology and productivity have improved, the number of hours we've had to work a week has declined. Therefore, we should be thankful for getting to work less and making a similar amount of money, inflation-adjusted.
Meanwhile, there's also less of a need to work as much because of a bull market since 2009. The more our investment returns go up, the more inclined we are to take it easy. Some old-timers are making much more money from their investments than they are from their day jobs.
Once the pandemic finally subsides, I suspect the average hours of work per week will once again trend lower. By 2030, the average hours of work per week might only be around 32-33 hours in America.
Personally, I love working 20-25 hours a week. To feel productive, three to four hours a day of work is my sweet spot. It leaves enough time to exercise, socialize, and spend time with family.
After about four hours of work, work starts feeling like a burden. Work is much less fun when you have to do it for the money. Conversely, work gets more fun when you don't need to work. This is why I encourage all of you who have achieved financial independence to do some consulting in interesting fields. Or take a risk and do something entrepreneurial.
It's OK To Take It Easy If…..
Everything is rational in the end. If we want to increase our chances of getting paid and promoted, we'll work more. If we're happy with our career and the money we have, then we won't work as hard.
Just be careful who you listen to.
When I was still trying to reach my financial goals, I encouraged readers to stop their complaining and work harder. I cared more about all of us reaching the promised land! The message was also for me to suck it up and get on with things. I hated my internal complaining monologue.
Today, I'm in a different, but similar position.
Once again, I find myself burned out after two years of working online, writing a book, and being a stay-at-home dad. However, we've got enough passive income to pay for our regular lifestyle now. Therefore, feeling burned out through work is self-induced. I plan to lessen the pain this year.
If you want to work fewer hours a week, be my guest! Sleep in. Go to a ball game during work hours. Get that mouse-jiggler so you can work 2-hours a day like some work-from-home tech employees. If you do, just also be OK with the results.
11 years after my first burnout, I've got my financial safety net. As a result, my desire for debating what's good for you has also declined.
Do what you want!
Excited For Our Children's Future
As a parent, I often wondered about our children's future. I used to think about how it would be almost impossible for them to get into a top university unless they find a cure for cancer (or are a legacy from a wealthy family). I also used to worry about the brutal competition for meaningful work in a shrinking world.
But now I realize the average hours worked per week in America is so low, I'm hopeful everything will be all right! All our children have to do is work a little longer than the average, and over time, they will get far ahead.
Working 34.2 hours on average a week is not hard if you are able-bodied and are not doing heavy physical labor. We're talking 6.84 hours a day for five days, 5.7 hours a day for six days, or 4.9 hours a day for seven days.
If our children work just 36.2 hours a week on average, they might be able to build an empire! Working just two hours more than the average a week leads to 104 more hours of work a year. What can you do with an extra 104 hours a year?
If we can instill in our children a strong work ethic, chances are, they'll do fine in life. Add on good financial education and they'll likely do great.
A Good Strategy For Getting Ahead
Finally, instead of working longer hours to get ahead, another strategy might be to convince others to work less. This way, it's almost like a race to the bottom of the lethargy pit.
Playing up to people's entitlement will make you a very popular person. You deserve to be rich without having to take risks. You deserve more government benefits without having to pay more taxes. In other words, you expect the same rules that apply to others shouldn’t apply to you.
But the secret is to continue working hard while telling others to relax. This way, you widen the productivity gap even further. It's kind of like the people who try and convince you they are middle class while they're secretly rich and trying to get richer.
If you don't want to be average, the key is to not do average work. Thankfully, the hurdle has gotten so low I trust most of us will do great.
Who’s with me for slacking off? The YOLO economy is here to stay!
Readers, are you surprised how low the average hours worked per week in America is? Has life actually gotten much easier, rather than much harder? Is the U.S. turning into France? We're working less, receiving more gov't and work benefits, and have more flexibility. Let's appreciate how good we've got it!
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