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The Loneliness of the Long-Hours Worker

Today, employers are demanding more hours from their white collar employees, with the aim of increasing production. However, studies have shown that, in fact, productivity does not really increase with long hours. In addition, experts show that the average overworked employee is lonelier and apt to suffer from various emotional and physical problems.

Some say the USA is the most overworked country in the world. Data provided by the the Center for American Progress, compared the USA with other industrialized countries and found the following:

• The U.S. is the only country in the Americas without a federal paid parental leave benefit.

• The U.S. has no law limiting the hours of the work per week, while 134 countries do.

• In the U.S., 85.8 percent of males and 66.5 percent of females exceed 40 hours of work a week.

• Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.

• Americans productivity is 400% greater than it was in 1950, and yet we are not earning 400% more. Our standard of living is about the same.

In short, Americans are working longer hours but making proportionately the same as they were in 1950. Their quality of life is suffering and companies are not really getting more productivity out of their employees. Employees who are disgruntled produce less, not more.

A study by Erin Reid of Boston University’s Questrom School of Business found that managers could not tell the difference between employees who worked 80 hours a week and those who just pretended to. Reid was not able to find any evidence that underworking employees actually accomplished less, or any sign that the overworking employees accomplished more.

Many studies by Marianna Virtanen of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and her colleagues have found that overwork and the resulting stress can lead to all sorts of health problems. These include impaired sleep, depression, heavy drinking, diabetes, impaired memory, and heart disease. These things impinge on a company’s productivity, showing up as absenteeism, high turnover, and the rising cost of health insurance.

Vivek H. Murthy, a former Surgeon General, wrote a recent article in the Harvard Business Review pointing to a “loneliness epidemic” in America and he blamed Corporate America for this epidemic. “Our social connections are in fact largely influenced by the institutions and settings where we spend the majority of our time,” Murthy said in an interview with The Washington Post. “We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s.” And, certainly, working the longer hours that are expected today by many if not most employers adds to this loneliness.

Murthy goes on to say that since we spend most of our time at work, sometimes even working weekends, it is the main source of our loneliness . “And if you look at the workplace,” he continues, “you’ll also find it’s associated with reductions in task performance. It limits creativity. It impairs other aspects of executive function, such as decision-making.”

In order to reverse this process, employers need to recognize that requiring employees to work longer hours is not cost-effective. As has been pointed out earlier in this blog, when employees don’t get enough sleep they don’t function as well the next day. When they are unhappy about the hours they’re being asked to work, their personal life suffers, and they take that unhappiness out on their work. They make more mistakes and they work at a slower pace. The quality of life at the workplace declines because of the longer hours. All of these factors decrease production.

When workers are happy they are happy to work. When workers are given time to make social connections at work, they are less lonely and are more disposed to do good work. When workers know that there is a definite time frame—let’s say the time frame is 9am to 5pm—they are more likely to give their all during that time frame and do so happily, knowing that their personal life is respected by the company.

Some employers may think that if they are paying good salaries to their employees, their employees should be so grateful to have a job with good pay, they should work whatever hours an employee wants. On some level employees resent that kind of attitude. It makes them feel like they are paid slaves. For the pay they get, they are expected to be at their employer’s disposal day and night, and sometimes even on weekends.

It is not enough to pay employees and give them health benefits. Quality of life in the workplace may be a much more important factor in terms of production for the employee as well as the employer. Employers may well need to reconsider their priorities if they really want to get maximum production from their employees.

The Loneliness of the Long-Hours Worker

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D.

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D. is a licensed psychoanalyst in New York and has been practicing for over 37 years. He works with adults, couples, families, adolescents, and children. He has graduated from three psychotherapy institutes and received a Certificate in Psychoanalysis from the Washington Square Institute in 1981. He has been an Adjunct Assistant Professor of psychology at the Borough of Manhattan Community College since 2002 and has authored thirteen books on psychotherapy and psychoanalysis as well as four novels and a book of poems and drawings. More recently he wrote 20 screenplays (winning four first-place awards at festivals) and produced and directed two feature films.

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APA Reference
Schoenewolf, G. (2017). The Loneliness of the Long-Hours Worker. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 17 Oct 2017
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