The Average Workday Is Now Longer

Technology was supposed to help us work less.


The average American workday is now 7:42am to 7:19pm. That doesn’t mean people are actually in the office the whole time. Because of technology, when the typical office worker leaves the office, they’re not done working. They’re still checking email, replying to email, making phone calls, and doing work online. As a matter of fact, the average American worker spends an additional entire day per week doing this kind of thing outside of office hours.

One of the laws of business and time management is the more available for work technology makes you, the more you will work, and the more you will be expected to work.

I started seeing this kind of technology-based “work creep” about 10-12 years ago. Back then I acquired a new regular client company. It was a good company and the people there were easy to work with…with one exception. For some odd reason I could not understand, these people freaked out whenever they called me and got my voice mail.

It was almost like they were offended that I wasn’t answering my phone when they called. I always called them back very quickly but that didn’t matter. They expected me to answer my phone, 100% of the time. Outside of this, they were really cool, flexible people. Moreover, none of my other clients got upset like this when they got my voice mail.

I was bewildered, until one day I finally realized what the culprit was.

This one company, unlike all the other companies I was working with at the time, was using a system called Nextel. If you don’t know what that is, it’s a type of cell phone that also works like a walkie-talkie. You could pull your Nextel phone off your belt, hit two buttons, and “beep” your co-worker even if he was in another city, and just start talking. Your co-worker had to stop whatever he was doing and immediately answer you, because your voice was blaring out of his phone (or his phone was beeping incessantly) until he answered you.

Of course, you were interrupted constantly by people squawking on your Nextel phone also. Sounds terrible I know, but for certain job positions within a company, like a key production supervisor or time-sensitive delivery driver, this kind of system is fine. The problem was this company had built their entire communication culture around this system. Even low-end office admin staff and people in the HR department had Nextel phones.

Since I was a consultant and not an employee, I was not on their Nextel system so they were stuck using my cell phone. When I answered when they called, it was fine. It was just like I was on Nextel. But when I didn’t answer, it was a jarring experience they were not accustomed to. For better or for worse, their technology made them expect more. Way more.

Now that you have a smart phone and email and texting and Skype and cloud-based applications, if you’re not careful, your customers, clients, and/or boss are going to expect you to be “working” far beyond the standard workday, and you’re going to end up working 50, 60, or 70 hours a week. Or more.

Some of this is good. I like to decompartmentalize my work and today’s technology is conducive for that. I love my work and I love working. I also love owning my own business and setting my own schedule. I usually enjoy working Sunday afternoons or Thursday evenings, just like I enjoy taking off work and going to see a movie at 1:00 in the afternoon on a Tuesday. Today’s technology makes all of this easily possible for me.

The bad part is what I already warned you about. You could end up working far more hours per week than you’d like. This is what has happened to us while technology was changing behind our backs.

Be proactive about this. Always, always, always, make sure you’re working when you want to be, and not when you want to be, regardless of your technological availability.

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