Elon Musk Once Stated, 'Nobody Ever Changed The World On 40 hours A Week' — But Now The Average Employee Works 44 Hours Per Week Just To Make Ends Meet

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Inc. and SpaceX, is notorious for his exceptional work ethic, often working long hours with minimal sleep.

Musk believes that changing the world necessitates an extraordinary commitment beyond the conventional 40-hour workweek. In promoting his companies on social media in 2018, Musk stated on X, “There are way easier places to work, but nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week.” Ironically, a few years later, average employees find themselves working more than 40 hours. 

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Musk’s hardcore work ethic has sparked considerable debate and criticism over the years. During Tesla Model 3’s production peak, Musk’s commitment saw him working 120-hour weeks, missing personal milestones and resorting to insomnia medication to manage sleeplessness. His method of dividing the day into five-minute increments illustrates an intense drive to optimize every moment for productivity, a trait admired by some but seen as unsustainable by others​​.

The tech industry, particularly in Silicon Valley, has long celebrated this intense work culture, often blurring the lines between work and personal life. Engineers and entrepreneurs are known to forgo traditional meals for efficiency, embodying a lifestyle where work predominates every aspect of life. Such dedication has led to innovations but also raised questions about the sustainability of such a lifestyle​​.

Musk’s attempt to apply the same hardcore work philosophy at X, demanding employees to commit or resign, resulted in a significant staff departure, indicating a potential misalignment between his work ethic and workforce expectations​​.

Contrary to Musk's belief that long hours are essential to achieving success, research and historical evidence suggest that longer hours don’t necessarily equate to higher productivity or better job performance. Studies have found that increased work intensity and prolonged hours can impair work quality, lead to decreased alertness and reduce overall workplace productivity​​.

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A recent Slack survey of over 10,300 employees globally found that pressuring employees to work after hours leads to lower productivity, more work-related stress and decreased job satisfaction. Those who chose to work extra hours of their own accord reported slightly higher productivity and wellness scores, highlighting the importance of autonomy and employee choice in work hours​​.

The assumption that world-changing work requires excessively long hours is also challenged by the historical example of Henry Ford, who found that reducing the workweek improved productivity in his automobile factories. This finding supports the notion that shorter work hours can enhance efficiency and output, a counterintuitive result in a culture that often celebrates the burn-the-midnight-oil mentality​​.

Despite the negative impact, more Americans are working 40-plus hours out of necessity. According to a 2021 Gallup survey, the average full-time employee works about 44 hours per week, with roughly 41% working 45 or more hours. This statistic highlights a trend where many work beyond the traditional 40-hour workweek not just to change the world but to make ends meet.

Forbes reported that the U.S. is the most overworked country in the developed world. American workers log more hours annually compared to their counterparts in several developed countries, such as Germany. The average work year in the U.S. encompasses about 1,750 hours, which is 400 hours more than what German employees work annually. 

For those feeling the strain of overwork, managing your finances differently could be a key to relief. Consulting a financial advisor could open up strategies for making your money work harder for you, potentially easing the need for long hours. Advisers can explore avenues for savings, investments and retirement planning, aiming to secure a future where working past retirement age isn’t a necessity. It’s a step toward not just enduring work but ensuring work and savings pave the way to a more balanced life.

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