Why You’re Probably Working Too Hard

Move to Jamaica, and it’s likely you’ll develop a penchant for rum. Move to New York, and it’ll be Prozac. From my experience Americans work harder, faster and longer than almost any country in the world – to the point where it makes them sick, disrupts their family life and makes them even more susceptible to persuasion from TV prescription drug adverts. But health impact aside, working long hours is just a bad idea period. It leads to less efficiency, more unnecessary complexity and anybody who admits they’re a workaholic is not somebody I’d want on my team. Here’s why.


We all know someone who is continuously complaining about working until 9pm at night, working all day at weekends, working when they should be sleeping, and working while on vacation. Yet behind these frustrated Tweets and status updates you can’t help but feel that these people are secretly….maybe just a **little** bit….looking for a pat on the head to acknowledge how productive they are. The beige-trousered corporate drone doth protest too much.

And it’s hardly surprising that working long hours has become a kind of twisted badge of honour. Hard work and graft is central to the idea of the American dream, with the belief that with enough blood, sweat and tears and with a wealthy family who gives you the financial security of being able to fail multiple times before succeeding, anybody can make it. But in the same way that consumers have been trained to believe that the size of the food they eat – irrespective of its capacity to kill them and their family – is an indicator of a “good meal”, we also tend to equate long hours with good work. The enigmatic Turkish designer who spends his mornings watching Netflix movies and does some work in the afternoon can often be seen as less productive than the business operations manager who pulls 12 hour days with no lunch.

But there’s a problem with this logic. Time spent on a task never necessarily equates to quality. If you made the mistake of asking me to build you a garden shed I can guarantee you that it would not only take over a year, but the end result would be structurally less sound than Joan Rivers’ cheekbones. If you hired a professional you’d get it in a day and the likelihood of the door being in the right place would be high.

If you’re always working evenings or weekends it immediately suggests to me that you’re unable to perform a task in a reasonable amount of time and thus you may not be best suited to the gig. I want to hire the person who actually works less, can complete tasks exceptionally well and then doesn’t go home every night resenting me and/or the company he/she works for because of the excessive work hours.

Working less doesn’t mean you have to cut corners. It just means you have the ability to understand what tasks are truly important and deserve your focus, and what tasks are not. It means you’re able to keep things simple and not overly complicate a project. And it means that you’re likely to be more committed during the working day because you actually get to spend time with your family at nights and weekends.

I’ve worked with people who used to complain constantly about working long hours. One guy was in perpetual bitch mode, so I made a point to informally check out what he was doing. I didn’t manage him (we were in the same team though) but I was just curious as to what Herculean tasks he could be performing that put my own working day to shame. Well there were two hours on the phone with Apple to understand why his podcasts that he was testing for work weren’t functional. Then there was the one hour trying to fix the printer. Another hour was spent on trying to change a dead link on a page of the site that probably attracted 2 visits per year. The more I watched the more I realised that while this person was clearly working longer hours, he wasn’t getting very much done.

Having only lived on the East Coast I can’t speak to whether this phenomenon of working long hours is confined to this region, or if it also spreads West. But it’s something that in my opinion is destructive to productivity. And having said that I’m off to take a nap. Wake me up when (or if) I get a comment.

Read more from Jonathan Hills at The Spinning Hamster