Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer made a comment last week about her time at Google, where she worked 130 hours and pulled at least one all-nighter each week— to her, a sign of hard work.
But, for most Americans, the average 40-hour workweek leads to decreased cognitive functioning.
A new study conducted by the University of Melbourne examined 6,500 adults in Australia ages 40 to 69 and found that 25- to 30-hour workweeks had a beneficial cognitive impact on older men, while 22- to 27-hour workweeks benefitted older women.
“Work can be a double-edged sword, in that it can stimulate brain activity, but at the same time, long working hours and certain types of tasks can cause fatigue and stress which potentially damage cognitive functions,” wrote the study authors.
Although the researchers examined physical and psychological stress caused by long hours in middle-aged and older employees, stress levels could impact workers of all ages.
See also: Stress taking its toll in the workplace
LuAnn Heinen, vice president at the National Business Group on Health, stressed the importance of creating and maintaining a healthy work environment, especially for those working 40 hours each week.
A healthy environment should be reflective of the employer’s line of work and help its employees harness that energy, she says.
For example, an employee in a creative field should have an environment that fosters a sense of creativity. Facebook’s New York City office has a music room for its employees to relax and kick start their creativity.
Benefits such as paid time off are also important for recruiting and retaining talent, Heinen says, but employees “come to work for more than the financial rewards.”
See also: Survey reveals one big problem with PTO
“We know the best way to improve productivity is to encourage employees to relax and recover,” she says. “Human beings are meant to work hard and then recover.”
Keeping stress levels low and productivity high doesn’t just fall on the employer, though.
“Employees have to think about their whole life schedule,” Heinen says. “It starts with sleep and it starts with commute time.”
Heinen recommends employees think about locating closer to work when possible, taking public transportation to avoid aggravation about the commute and starting the day with fresh energy that comes from a good night’s sleep.
At the office, employees should take breaks to improve productivity, such as using the break room and chatting with colleagues throughout the day.
“Most of us work best in intervals,” Heinen says.
She also recommends moving breaks for stretching or walking.
If all else fails, Heinen recommends flexible scheduling or telecommuting. For employees who live far from the office, for example, working from home or commuting a few days a week can lessen the aggravation.
While it might fall short of a 25-hour workweek, says Heinen, it could help make a 40-hour workweek more productive and fulfilling.
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