Get Ahead

People are over the 40-hour workweek: 'We don't want to waste our time'

Source: Envato Elements

Between 2019 and 2022, the number of hours people spent working in the U.S. fell by the equivalent of 33 fewer hours a year per person, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The Covid-19 pandemic didn't just disrupt where and how we show up to our jobs: It has led people to question when and why they should be working in the first place.

While resignation rates have been slowly ticking up over the last decade, other factors related to the lingering pandemic ─ burnout, the rise of remote work, a national existential panic ─ have pushed workers to re-consider what they're giving and getting out of their jobs.

As a result, more people are breaking out of the 40-hour workweek.

"There's a growing annoyance with work tasks that add no value to our lives," Anthony Klotz, a professor of management at London's UCL School of Management, says. "People have a much lower tolerance for this, and are less afraid to say, 'We don't want to waste our time.'"

Changing attitudes toward work

Before the pandemic, Klotz argues, people accepted minor inconveniences in their schedules, whether it was a long commute, suffering through small talk in the breakroom or sitting in two-hour meetings because they didn't know there was any other way to work.

After working from home for several months, or years, however, some people realized they could be more efficient with their time and strike a better work-life balance. Time spent commuting was replaced with exercising, child care and getting ahead on chores, among other activities, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York noted in its October 2022 report.

As more people return to the office, they bring these new habits and expectations.

"The general consensus, as I've noticed, is that people are happy to come back to the office and perform their core job functions, but they don't have a lot of tolerance for things outside of that," Klotz explains. "Like, if you're making me come to the office or attend an on-site meeting, it better be good."

Time is money

Rising inflation and the overall increased cost of living have made the monetary value of people's time even more salient.

Klotz also points out that the increasing popularity of side hustles has shown more people how easily they can convert their time into money.

In fact, 73% of U.S. workers plan to freelance this year, according to Fiverr, which polled 2,000 workers in December 2022.

"If your boss at your primary job asks you to work extra hours, you can calculate exactly how much that additional time is worth if you have a side hustle or freelance project with an hourly rate that would pay more," Klotz says.

How companies are responding

In conversations with managers and CEOs at companies throughout the U.S., Klotz has noticed one question come up more and more: "How do we make sure our employees have rich lives outside of work while still getting their core jobs done?"

In 2022, more than 900 workers across 33 businesses in the U.S. and Ireland tested a four-day workweek and saw improved productivity, finances and relationships among other benefits, CNBC Make It's Jennifer Liu reports.

Other companies are experimenting with meeting-free days, half-day Fridays and different time-saving strategies to meet employee demands.

Klotz doesn't expect the desire to spend less time at work to subside anytime soon.

"The labor market remains tight, which means workers in most industries still have plenty of power," he says. "With that power comes the freedom to change your priorities, and for many people, that has meant questioning their approach to, and the value of, their jobs."

Check out:

A college side hustle made her a self-made millionaire before she turned 30—here's how she got started

Hybrid workers earn more than remote and in-person workers, according to new research—here's why

American workers aren't returning to the office like their international counterparts—here's why

Sign up now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter

I live in a $35,000 tiny home in my backyard in Atlanta, Georgia - take a look inside
I live in a $35K tiny home in my backyard in Atlanta, Georgia