Yes, There Are People Who Work 40 Hours A Week And Want To Get Ahead

Financial Samurai once asked in one of his most popular posts, “Are There Really People Who Only Work 40 Hours A Week Or Less And Complain Why They Can’t Get Ahead?”  I would like to add my response in the form of this post.

First, the answer is “Yes”.

I think it’s okay to work “only” 40 hours a week and complain about not getting salary increases and/or not getting promotions.  At the same time, I focus my complaints on wage stagnation, rather than a better title, because I know that most companies reward the person who puts in the most hours.  I’m not saying that the promoted person is not smart or deserving; it’s just that many equally smart or deserving people often get overlooked for the wrong reason.

One of the commenters, DoveArrow, had an excellent response to that way of thinking:

“While I agree that people who take 90 minute coffee breaks have no room to complain that they aren’t getting promoted, I do think that there is a tendency to reward people who are busy rather than people who are efficient.

Now compare what I do to my co-workers. Many of them can barely open a spreadsheet, much less use one. When looking for duplicates on two separate spreadsheets, they will print out both and go through them laboriously line-by-line, rather than running a simple query in Access…As a result, they work 50-60 hours a week in order to get everything done.

Now here’s the rub. I have seen people like my co-workers, who make less efficient use of their time, get rewarded with overtime and promotions time and again. People like me, who are more efficient and innovative, get rewarded with laborious, boring shit jobs that need to get done, but nobody else has time to do. That’s because busyness in our culture is equated with ambition whereas efficiency is overlooked and often equated with laziness.”

Are we really making the best of our (human) resources when we promote base on looking busy, rather than creativity, innovation or effectiveness? This way of thinking actually excludes many smart people who want a work/life balance.

40 hours is long enough to do a job well — very well. With all the technological advances that have taken place in the past 20+ years, worker productivity has soared.  Think of the days before fax machines, smartphones, or computers.  In an office, every facet of a person’s job from filing to booking travel to creating presentations took twice as long to accomplish.  Yet we adhere to this “clock in – clock out” mentality that insists putting in the hours is the best way to measure productivity, when people should be measured by results.

I grant that there may be times that over-time is needed but if we expect someone to work 50-60 every week, there’s a problem that can and should be fixed by adding another employee or two. The real loser in this scenario is the person who puts in those long hours, and actually makes less per hour.  As venture capitalist Nick Hanauer revealed in a popular post about income inequality:

“…we capitalists will never actually ask you to work overtime. I don’t even track your hours. I just make it clear that I trust you to get your job done in the time allotted. And then I hand you twice as much work as you can reasonably do in a 40-hour week….And so you work even more hours, pushing unemployment up and wages down. And that, my friends, is one of the little tricks that keeps you poor and me rich.”

workerThere is also ample research showing that the optimal work hours for most people is about 40 – 50 hours max. Working longer hours does not make a person’s work more valuable.  He/she can make more mistakes and be resentful.  He/she may create work, like pretty reports and charts, just to have enough work to fill up those extra hours. I have personally seen that happen many times.

Even though this is a response to Financial Samurai’s original post, it’s not an attack on him or his beliefs.  However, I disagree with his core statement that “anybody who wants to be better than average can’t work 40 hours and expect to be more than they’re not.”  This implies that anyone who works “only” 40 hours per week cannot be exceptional.  I disagree. Consider that the extra hours can be consumed by office politics, back-stabbing, fixing mistakes, sitting in long meetings, and doing mindless work. Therefore it’s very possible and probable that a smart, efficient worker could average 40 hours a week and still be very valuable and worthy of promotion.

Finally, I think this 80-hour week mentality causes many qualified professionals to exit their careers due to burn-out or family needs, especially working mothers. In this day and age, where companies have zero loyalty to its employees, is it really worth it to put in all those additional hours just to get pushed out when you can easily become dispensable due to age or circumstance?


One thought on “Yes, There Are People Who Work 40 Hours A Week And Want To Get Ahead

  1. I work 40 hours a week (get paid for 40 hours anyways.) I refuse to do overtime. The overtime pay is great and all, but not worth it to me. I run a rental business on the side, many time it keeps me a bot of stress and busy, but I’m happier than get stuck at my job.,

    People at my job, doesn’t have the senority but get ahead, good for them :). I don’t want to complaint about that, I’ll just work on my business and get on out of there. 🙂

    Since I discovered early retirement, it empowered me. I found the new founded freedom (my lifestyle stayed the same).

    People at work, whenever they do overtime, I see them eat out more to “reward” themselves. 🙂 work more spend more. 🙂 that is terrible to me, but people would do it.


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