This is why we feel so overworked

40hrs work week

There's a really simple secret to happiness and greater productivity on the job.

First, put in long hours every day.

Second, check work emails constantly after-hours.

Third, do more with less, year after year.

That's it. That's the secret, according to findings from ... no study ever.

Yet that's exactly how many employees function on the job -- every day of every week of every year. And often employers either explicitly or implicitly expect it of them.

"The model for how to work has been the machine, and more recently, the computer. More, bigger, faster remains the prevailing mantra," Tony Schwartz, founder of The Energy Project, wrote in a study of 20,000 employees.

Related: The death of the 40-hour workweek

But, Schwartz noted, that's a losing formula for humans, who "are designed to pulse regularly between spending and renewing energy."

His study, done in concert with the Harvard Business Review, found more than half of employees did not have:

  • Regular time for creative or strategic thinking
  • Ability to focus on one thing at a time
  • Opportunities to do what they enjoy most
  • Opportunities for learning and growth

More than 40% also lacked:

  • Overall positive energy
  • Ability to balance work and home life
  • Ability to disengage from work

Meanwhile, other studies confirm what star athletes know -- working hard is useful but recovery time is just as important for peak performance.

Psychology professor K. Anders Ericsson studied professional violinists and found that they get the most out of their practice when it's limited to about four hours a day, with breaks in between.

Great writers often set aside their mornings to write, and spend the rest of the day doing less-intense tasks.

The takeaway for the rest of us?

"Even experts are unable to sustain full concentration for more than 4 or 5 hours per day," Ericsson said.

Of course, a four-hour workday with plenty of breaks isn't really feasible -- financially or professionally -- for most people.

But better managing time at work can be.

For instance, The Energy Project advises that people work in no more than 90-minute cycles and take rests in between. An occasional nap even.

People who do so report having higher levels of focus, creativity and sense of well-being, the consulting firm said.

Another big idea: Leave at the end of an 8-hour day. Go home, meet friends, workout, catch up with your kids, vacuum, whatever. But leave the job behind.

Related: Top reasons why workers quit their job

"Employees who work at least 55 hours compared to those who work 40 hours or less report feeling 21% less engaged and 27% less focused," according to Schwartz's study.

All this is easier said than done, of course, especially when you work for bosses who believe everything should be secondary to work, including your family commitments and personal well-being.

But that kind of leadership keeps the company and the employee from doing their very best.

While only about of fifth of people surveyed in Schwartz's study said their leaders model more "sustainable" ways of working, those who work for them felt far more engaged and satisfied on the job and much, much more likely to actually stay at the company.

Go figure.

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