3 Ways to Work Fewer Hours at Your Job

August 19, 2016

3:00 pm

Critiques of the workaholic environment in the U.S. are common: Even though the U.S. is only the fifth most workaholic country by some rankings, “Americans are definitely workaholics,” Cullen Murphy, editor-at-large for Vanity Fair, after the magazine ran a study finding that 63 percent of respondents would rather get paid for their leftover sick days than take them.

Results Are More Important Than Hours

Look, this seems obvious to me, too. But go to the high-powered, high-paying positions around America, and you’ll see consistent long hours for no good purpose. Here’s a 2014 article in The Atlantic on whether we all need to work fewer hours:

“Alexandra Michel, a Goldman Sachs associate-turned-University of Pennsylvania adjunct professor, found that at two well-known investment banks (which she left unnamed) employees were working an average of 120-hour weeks (as in, 17 hours a day, every day). This led workers, as Michel writes, to not only “neglect family and health,” but also to work long hours even when their bosses did not force them to—and when they knew that working that 16th and 17th hour a day wouldn’t make them any more productive.

Michel concluded that hardworking individuals put in long hours not for ‘rewards, punishments, or obligation.’ Rather, they do so ‘because they cannot conceive otherwise even when it does not make sense to do so.'”

But How Do You Get Shorter Hours?

So you want to break the cycle. That means you’ll be butting heads with people whose understanding of the importance of long hours is likely vastly inflated for no good reason. You can’t just accuse your boss of this. Yet it will be working against you. Societal norms don’t allow you to negotiate shorter hours rather than extra pay. Here are your options:

1: Make It Clear From the Start

The next time you enter a job, argue for a set number of hours. You’ll work hard within them, but won’t go over them. Maybe 40-45 hours is a short work week in your industry. Maybe 35 hours is. If they don’t like it, they won’t hire you. If they hired you and then start pressuring you to work more, you’ll know they don’t respect you and can start looking for your next position.

2: Back Up Your “Raise”

Perhaps you want to work fewer hours at the job you’re already working too long at. You’ll have to treat a shorter work week like a raise. After all, if you’re getting paid the same wage for 35 hours that you were for 40, it will be. Find the right time, like after a favorable review.

Cite the numbers behind your contributions to the company. The more experience you have, the easier it is to work fewer hours, as software engineer Itamar Turner-Trauring explains:

“Whether you’re negotiating your hours at your existing job or at a new job, you’ll do better the more experienced and skilled of a programmer you are. These days I have enough provable skills that I can do OK at negotiating, but it’s taken learning from a lot of mistakes to get there. “

3: Ask for a Trial Run

A great way to slip a shorter work week past your boss is to ask for a trial period… perhaps one or three months in which you handle the same workload with fewer hours in your week to do so. Naturally, you’ll have to make sure you don’t slack off at all! Good luck.

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Adam is a writer with an interest in a variety of mediums, from podcasts to comic books to video essays to novels to blogging — too many, basically. He's based out of Seattle, and remains a staunch defender of his state's slogan: "sayWA." In his spare time, he recommends articles about science fiction on Twitter, @AdamRRowe

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