Here’s a new reason to work fewer hours

Close-up of male’s hand with pen over document on background of working woman

Gone are the days of strolling into work at 9 a.m. sharp and clocking out precisely eight hours later. American workers are putting in more time on the job than ever before.

In a 2014 Gallup poll, 40% of U.S. employees said they work more than 50 hours each week, while 20% put in more than 60 hours.

Of course, nowadays, you don’t need to physically sit in an office to perform work-related tasks — a fact that’s both a benefit and a curse. With the ubiquity of smartphones and the ability to access proprietary systems remotely, workers can log on at all hours and respond to job-related demands at any time.

Working outside the office is still working, and for the nearly half of U.S. employees who regularly put in 50 hours or more each week on the job, it’s a habit that can all too quickly result in a case of serious burnout.

Part of the problem is that employers tend to put a lot of pressure on employees to be perpetually available, even if that means logging on after hours or on weekends.

But companies that demand a more intense workweek might actually be shooting themselves in the foot. That’s because a Stanford University study has found that employee productivity significantly declines once the 50-hour mark has been reached in a given work week.

Furthermore, employee output falls off a cliff after the 55-hour mark — in other words, an employee who puts in 65 hours on the job in a given week won’t be any more productive than someone who puts in 55.

Not only that, but longer hours have also been linked to frequent absences and an increase in employee turnover. And it makes sense: When we push ourselves too hard, whether by choice or to due pressure from management, we’re more likely to get sick or feel the need to run away. If you’ve reached a point in your career where you’re putting in too many hours for your own good, it may be time to scale back — before you reach the point of no return.

How much are you willing to give up?

It’s one thing to forgo the occasional happy hour or miss out on a few family dinners here and there to please management or meet deadlines. But it’s another thing to spend so much time at the office that your friends forget what you look like.

Giving up too much of your free time can harm not only your happiness, but also your health. We all need opportunities during the week to recharge, and if you go too long without a reasonable amount of downtime, you risk falling victim to physical ailments as well as depression.

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