Three reasons to get off the long-hours treadmill


“When I grow up I want a job where I get to work 50-60 hours a week and only get paid for 40,” said no one ever.

And yet, that’s exactly what many people wind up doing.

Why? Well, there’s the pressure to conform to a culture of long hours, lack of confidence to push back, fear of losing status/promotion potential or of being seen as not pulling their weight. The list goes on.

The bigger question is, why do people stay?

Again, many reasons, but from the hundreds of clients I see for career coaching, most often it’s because they have never stopped to consider an alternative.

Once on the treadmill, they get into the mindset that “this is just how it is” – that they need to toughen up and get on with it.

And if they do get to a point where they are feeling the strain and raise the workload issue with their managers, the usual response is that they “just lack resilience”. In reality, it has little to do with resilience and everything to do with unreasonable, unsustainable workloads. 

Close to burnout and not convinced about the need for a resilience course, people often come to me for help.

What I find is that, once they do stop to consider what their lives would look like if they were intentional about it, most will say they would live a more sustainable lifestyle where they have time for friends and family, be healthier and less stressed, and be doing meaningful work.

Interestingly, when I ask what balance looks like in terms of work hours, the answer is usually “no more than four days a week”.

So this is how most would design their lives if they believed they had the choice.

But here’s the thing – they never stopped to consider that they did get to choose.

Sure, there can be unhelpful mindsets to work through to get to that point, but eventually the penny drops. And then they wonder why they have stayed on the treadmill so long.

This is not to say that, for some, there are very real financial constraints and other reasons why their choices might be more limited. But nine times out of 10, the people I see, many of whom have spent years working, find that when they do the maths, they could afford to work less hours. If not immediately, they can at least plan for a future that gives them a sustainable lifestyle (provided that they are intentional about it and not operating on autopilot).

Reasons to get off the long-hours treadmill

If this sounds like you – on a treadmill giving away half a working week for free and hours of your life you will never get back – here are three good reasons to stop it:

Reason 1: It’s unproductive.

Studies show, time and again, that longer hours and productivity do not go hand in hand. A study highlighted in this article, for example, showed that New Zealanders work, on average, about 10 per cent more hours than the OECD average to produce about 20 per cent less.

In contrast, Perpetual Guardian’s recent experiment showed that when their employees worked a four day working week they were not only more productive, they were also less stressed and more engaged and enthusiastic.  A Melbourne Institute study even showed people over 40 were more productive working just three days per week!

Reason 2: It won’t make you happy.

While a World Happiness report showed that being in a senior role in a high income bracket enjoying perceived higher social status can bring happiness, when your work impacts time with family and you have little time and energy left over for non-work activities, you will have less enjoyment, less laughter and smile less than others. And overall, mental health and wellbeing was rated as more important than either income or physical health – in the Western countries at least.

Reason 3: It won’t change any time soon.

If employees continue to give hours of work time away for free, what incentive is there for employers to address the situation, or be realistic about the resources that are actually required to run a profitable business? You could keep propping up someone else’s business on your time, or you could consider how else you might like to spend those precious hours.

If you are stuck on the treadmill and need help to make it stop, get in touch. I offer a structured six session programme designed to help people understand themselves better, to identify what is important to them and the lifestyle they want to be living, and in the process work through any unhelpful mindsets and barriers that might be getting in their way. We also identify the strengths and skills they want to be able to use on the job, and what they are really passionate about. Once clients go through this programme, they report feeling much more confident about making job and career decisions and they look at options they may never have looked at before. That’s because they have renewed insight about what they have to offer, and about the types of work environments in which they will thrive.

About the author: Lucy Sanderson-Gammon, MBA, is a Wellington-based career coach helping mid-career professionals who have fallen out of love with their jobs to find meaningful work. She also provides career development for those who want to get ahead at work or make a transition after redundancy.