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The 40-Hour Work Week Remains a Myth as Americans Take Work Home

Study shows that despite a desire to have work remain in the bounds of 9 to 5, the American workforce is increasingly stretched.

American workers can’t get jobs done in a 40-hour work week, according to a new report. Data from the American Working Conditions Survey (AWCS) by the Rand Corporation suggests that employees hired at all levels in the U.S. workforce are pressured, stressed, and frequently interrupted, resulting in the necessity to complete tasks during personal time. The report offers further proof that full-time employment fitting neatly into 8 hour days is increasingly a myth.

Given the Rand survey data, it will likely not come to a surprise to most working men and women that one in four feel they have too little time to do the work they’ve been assigned. That translates into about half of the AWCS respondents reporting that they take work home at least some of the time in order to meet employer demands and tight deadlines. Another upshot of the amount of work and the lack of time? Only 57 percent of those surveyed said they were able to take breaks at work.

So why is the 40-hour work-week dying? The report does offer some clues. The first is that most Americans, a full two-thirds, report working at fast-paced gigs with tight deadlines. And there is clearly no greater destroyer of coffee breaks and free time than looming deadlines. But things are complicated even more by demands outside of the task at hand according to AWCS respondents. About half of U.S. workers report being interrupted frequently on the job with 40 percent of those experiencing the interruptions saying the interruptions are negative.

stressed working man

As ever, those who feel work pressures straining against their family and social lives are the youngest workers in the workforce. This is particularly true for those under the age of 35 without a college degree, 26 percent of whom suggest that their working hours are a poor fit with family and social commitments. The study authors note that these pressures are likely due to the fact that these workers also report having jobs that require intense effort and are at an age when child-rearing becomes particularly important.

Unfortunately, having a clear and consistent expectation of working hours is pretty high on the list for qualities of a good job according to AWCS respondents. While 70 percent of workers suggest that their hours are five percent greater or fewer than what they would prefer, 39 percent of the working population say that having the right number of hours is key to their ideal gig.

That said, if modern trends continue, it’s likely that jobs offering what was once “reasonable” work hours will continue to decline, making “overworked and underpaid” the new normal.