According to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), the average worker in America puts in 35 hours per week. If that number seems low based on your workweek, you’re not alone. For one, the data is misleading. It appears that they divided total annual hours by 52 weeks, thus ignoring vacation, sick and holiday time off. Also, if you adjust the data set for full time employment and the age of the majority of the workforce, the workweek is more like 42 hours.
You can play with the numbers in an interactive worksheet at http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=ANHRS American workers continue to work more than those living in many other leading western economies – Norway: 37 hrs/week, France: 39 hrs/week, Germany: 40 hrs/week. However, we can feel fortunate not to work in Mexico (48 hrs/week) or Turkey (51 hrs/week). Having lived and worked in a couple European countries, I have experienced a completely different culture when it comes to the workday. My Danish colleagues, for example, were much more reluctant to put in overtime or sacrifice their weekends for a job. Surprisingly, clients were much more receptive to pleas for more time and a measured timetable on their project.
If these reported workweeks still seem paltry, then consider the breakdown for engineers. The National Science Foundation (NSF) published a report in 2003 showing that the average engineer works 49 hrs/week. Sounds more like it! Academics work an incredible 52 hrs/week, while government engineers have a bit more free time, working only 45 hrs/week. Our colleagues in the health and science fields fare no better. The NSF report goes on to examine the effect of career stages (more hours at beginning of your career) and sex & children. Although on average men tend to put in longer hours, the women without children demographic actually tops the chart.
As with most young engineering professionals, I would guess that 50 hrs/week was typical for the first few years of my career. Hours get worse as deadlines approach, of course. A couple of years ago, I received a sought-after promotion that unfortunately eliminated extra pay for overtime. Even after loosing the economic motivation for long hours, I continued to put in extra time to advance my career and service my projects. But since having my first child last year, I have tried to cut back significantly on my working hours.
Project deadlines are still a bear. Every day this week, I brought work home, and Saturday I was in the office for another eight hours. Though my managers talk a good game about work-life balance, there is still tremendous pressure to service the projects and meet deadlines. My situation is the norm. Most engineers struggle to get their work done in the normal workweek. There are also countless opportunities for career building and networking in the evenings.
I try to maintain a balance. It actually helps to know that I have to pick up my daughter from the babysitter at 4:30 each day. Sometimes it takes that type of responsibility to be able to put down the work.
How many hours do you work each week? What steps do you take to maintain a healthy work-life balance? What would be the ideal workweek for you? Please add your comments below.