In South Korea, a country known for its strong work ethic, a recent proposal to raise the maximum workweek from 52 to 69 hours has sparked a heated controversy between younger workers and the government over work-life balance. Despite the government’s claim that the increase in overtime would provide workers with more freedom, better quality of life, and increased family time, the proposal has faced significant opposition.
It prompted law firm Bisnar Chase to gauge American workers’ appetite for longer working hours. The firm commissioned QuestionPro to carry out a survey of 3,000 employees to determine their willingness to work longer hours.
Interestingly, the average worker in America said they could tolerate a 44.4 hour standard work week. This is 4.4 hours more than the current average work week of 40 hours.
Workers in Delaware have the highest working thresholds, saying they could handle a 47.5 hour work week. On the other end of the scale, Montanans would reluctantly accept an increase of 1 hour, taking them up to 41 hours in total.
Bisnar Chase sought to delve deeper into people’s attitudes about working hours and more specifically, how they would react to potential government changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The survey results showed that two-thirds of respondents believe that the government has struck an appropriate balance with the current system.
When presented with a hypothetical scenario in which they could retire earlier in life by working a longer work week, 60% indicated their willingness to make such a trade-off.
Although an increase in the workweek may initially cause shock, some survey respondents recognized potential benefits. Specifically, 83% cited increased pay as the biggest advantage, with 13% believing that they would be better able to achieve their professional goals, and a small minority of 4% stating that they could improve relationships with their colleagues.
However, 45% said the biggest downside to working more hours would be the risk to their mental and physical health. Over one-third would worry about the reduced time they could spend with family & friends, and 12% would be concerned about not being able to pursue hobbies and interests away from work.
Finally, the survey (commissioned by QuestionPro) found that a significant portion would strongly oppose any increase in the nation’s working hours, with over half stating that they would participate in street protests to demonstrate their opposition to the new law.
“Extending the 40-hour workweek would undoubtedly trigger an intense backlash from employees. Not only would they be forced to spend more time at work, but they would also have less time to devote to their families, hobbies, and other pursuits outside of work. This could lead to increased stress, burnout, and other mental health issues, ultimately eroding both employee well-being and organizational productivity. Employers must recognize that work-life balance is not a luxury but a necessity, and that respecting employees’ time and energy is critical to creating a healthy and sustainable workplace culture” says Brian Chase of Bisnar Chase.