The Long Term Adverse Effects of Overworking

By: Batia Segal  |  April 29, 2021

By Batia Segal, Business Editor

Recently, I have been listening to Elon Musk speak about productivity and he said something that stuck out to me. 

Work twice as hard as the average guy. If other people are putting in 40 hours in a week, and you’re putting in 100, you will achieve in four months, what it takes them a year to achieve.” 

After hearing this, for the next month, I thought about this deeply. Okay, logically this makes a lot of sense. The more you work, the more you get done and the more a person gets done, the more money they will make. What about rest? What are the long-term effects of this? According to the New York Times, research suggests that there is a direct link between lack of rest and lower cognitive performance. Lower cognitive performance is not only bad for the individual but the company takes a toll as well. A company that has a bunch of employees that are functioning at lower cognitive performance prevents the optimization of their analytical skills. In turn, this lowers productivity. 

An eye-opening study by John Pancavel finds that for the first 49 hours of the workweek there is a direct correlation between the number of hours put in and productivity. In other words, the more employees worked, the more is achieved. After around 50 hours, “employees still produced more the more they worked, but the output for each additional hour worked started to shrink. And after about 64 hours, productivity collapsed.” 

Knowing this to be true, why do investment banks still assign their employees 90-100 hour work weeks? The answer is simple, they don’t really care. Fine, the employees will burn out after a couple of years but they have hundreds of newly graduated college kids ready to take on the grueling job. Here I am simply describing a problem, but a solution is more complicated to come up with. Even if Goldman Sachs decides to mandate that employees only work 50 hours a week, the employees may end up working more due to the cutthroat nature of the industry. A smart way to implement a solution would be to offer bonuses to those who efficiently finish their work within the 50 – 60 hour time frame. This may reduce burnout and increase productivity. Ultimately, the issue is obvious but the solution is more complex.