During the Industrial Revolution, manufacturing workers pulled horrific hours — we’re talking around 100 hours per week of physically demanding labor. The Ford Motor Company saw this wasn’t working and adopted the 40-hour, five-day workweek, and the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 made it standard. But over the years, the number of hours we work has steadily crept back up.
Americans find it harder and harder to shut off work, especially since it’s now so easy to take work home via smartphones and laptops. In an era where people are pulling increasingly longer hours, it may seem like heresy to suggest powering down the computer by 5 p.m. Why is it so hard to do?
Some employees are worried they will look like a slacker who doesn’t prioritize their job above all else, especially if everyone else stays late — and especially they have colleagues who regularly respond to emails at midnight. Some have bosses who pressure them to stay long hours or give them a hard time if they try to leave at a reasonable time. Perhaps some are easily distracted, lack discipline, or are not terribly skilled at prioritizing, and they simply feel that they have to stay late in order to finish certain tasks.
But it’s worth leaving work on time; I promise — if for no other reason to get outside and enjoy the sunshine during the glorious long summer days. Here’s why you should reorganize your workload and find a better work/life balance by leaving at a reasonable time.
5. It’s good for your health (if you’re a woman).
According to research published by Ohio State University in 2016, women who regularly work 50 hours a week instead of 40 increase their risk of developing serious health issues, and those who have work weeks averaging 60 hours or more for over three decades triple the risk of diabetes, heart problems, cancer, and arthritis. Ironically, the opposite is true for men; the longer hours they work, the healthier they are. The researchers predicted this is because of all of the additional pressures and responsibilities women face at home.
4. You will not be more productive if you stay.
There’s a compelling reason to work only 40 hours per week: any longer, and your productivity tanks. Research shows that once you hit 40 hours, you become less productive and more tired, and it really only makes sense in the short-term for a tight deadline. Beyond that, output diminishes the longer you keep working…or trying to work.
3. It forces you to stop wasting time and adopt smarter work habits.
If you have a hard stop on how long you’ll be at the office, it requires you to make your time at the office more efficient and productive. Are you wasting time chatting with coworkers on your instant message program? Are you spending too much time responding to issues via email that could be settled faster with a quick phone call? Are you letting five-minute social media breaks turn into half an hour? Are rambling meetings becoming a time-suck? Giving yourself a deadline for when you’re leaving forces you to analyze your habits and adopt better ones. If you’re easily distracted by social media or websites, consider using blocker tools to help you focus. Reevaluate which meetings are truly necessary, and try to keep people on topic.
2. It helps you plan your day more effectively and create boundaries.
If you arrive in the morning knowing by exactly what time you need to have certain tasks done, and you let your colleagues know when you’ll be leaving, you can properly set expectations and optimize how you spend your day. Also, if you decide to improve your discipline and no longer tell yourself that you can just finish something later tonight, it puts more pressure on you to get things done during the day and plan and prioritize accordingly.
1. It will make you happier.
This is an easy one. Leaving work on time gives you more time for the things you love. More opportunities to go to the gym and get a hit of endorphins. More time with your partner or kids or pets. More chances to grab happy hour with friends. More time for beloved hobbies or fun events. Working less and spending more time doing things that feed your soul should reduce burnout and stress, while improving your mood. As a bonus, if you manage people, they’ll appreciate your example of implementing balance — and you may be a little more pleasant to deal with.