How Do Working Hours Affect Productivity?

The battle between how long you need to work and still be productive has been at the forefront of the human mind since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The truth is that we are still learning about the relationship between the two factors.

Working hard is essential, of course, but at what point does it affect productivity?

Companies, in particular, are having to reevaluate their organizational procedures as research starts to show the effect long working hours can have on workers. Organizations are interested in maximizing employee output, but they still want employees to work as long as is sufficient.

One thing is clear; we need to understand how working hours affect productivity:

History of the Eight Hour Workday

To better understand how working hours affect productivity, we need to refer to history. The typical workday today starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 5 a.m.  

The eight-hour workday was introduced about 200 years ago during the start of the Industrial Revolution. Before that, men used to work for over 12 hours a day. However, manufacturers were experiencing substantial losses because of fatigued employees who made many errors.

A British manufacturer coined the slogan ‘eight hours of work, eight hours of recreation and eight hours of rest’ to signify a balanced workday. However, people still worked six days a week. Henry Ford reduced the workweek to five days a week after creating the assembly line.

Need to Track Working Employee Hours

Now that we know the history of the typical workday and week, we can see its effect on productivity. First, it is crucial to know how long employees work to make productivity improvements based on the length of time worked.

In the modern era, there are many ways to track employee working hours. Having a time clock for multiple employees to punch in the time they arrive and leave is a great solution.

Once you have a clear idea of how long employees work, you can take appropriate measures to reduce or increase it based on productivity.

Working Hours and Productivity

The number of hours employees work every day is primarily determined by the country’s labor laws. For example, the Fair Labor Standards Act in the United States considers a 40-hour workweek the norm. However, many workers report to work more than that mainly because they get more overtime pay which they can use for investments or other uses.

More research has been conducted in the recent past to show the correlation between employee productivity and working hours. The research has shown that employees that work shorter hours every day tend to be more productive and have higher morale than those that work for long hours.

Countries such as Spain, Sweden, and France have shortened their workweek, and studies show it has had a positive effect on productivity. Research by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) also indicates that workers in several countries have reduced their working time over the past few decades, positively affecting productivity.

Countries such as Greece, in which employees work longer hours, have been shown to have lower productivity levels than Germany, where people work shorter hours.

In short, the research clearly shows an apparent decrease in the output the more you increase working hours past a particular point. Many studies have shown that worker output decreases after about 48 working hours per week, and productivity significantly declines after 63 working hours per week.

In fact, working longer hours often hurts employers because it results in more accidents and health issues which employers have to pay for generally. Employee burnout is a significant risk for employees who work longer hours.

The relationship between productivity and working hours is slowly coming into view. Enough research has been done to show an inverse relationship between working hours and productivity. Employers should consider shorter working hours if they want more productive employees in the future. 

Adam Hansen

Adam is a part time journalist, entrepreneur, investor and father.