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Industrial & Organisational : Introduction : Personnel : Organizational psychology : Occupations: Work environment: Index : Outline

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A persons work week length is the number of hours they are expected to work in a seven day period.

Work week length is a quantity that can be measured for an individual or, in the aggregate, for a society. In the latter case, a 40-hour workweek would imply that employed individuals within the society, on average, worked 40 hours per week. Most often, the concern of sociologists and policy-makers focuses on the aggregate variables. If an individual works 60 hours per week, it could simply mean that he or she is enthusiastic about his or her job, not a cause for concern. However, if long workweeks become the norm in a society, these hours almost certainly are not voluntary, and it represents a drought of leisure and a threat to public health.

Most industrialized nations legally mandate a maximum work week length of between 35 and 45 hours per week, and, require 2 to 5 weeks per year of holiday.[How to reference and link to summary or text] However, the actual hours of work per week cannot fall below a certain minimum without compromising a nation’s ability to produce the basic material standards of living.

If the work week is too short compared to that society's ideal, then the society suffers from underemployment of labor and human capital. All else being equal, this will tend to result in lower real incomes and a lower standard of living than what could be had with a longer work week in the same society.

In contrast, a work week that is too long will result in more material goods at the cost of stress-related health problems as well as a drought of leisure. Furthermore, children are likely to receive less attention from overworked parents, and childrearing is likely to be subjectively worse. The exact ways in which excessive workweeks affect culture, public health, and education are debated, but the existence of such a danger is undisputed.

Several nations have imposed limits on working time in order to combat unemployment. This has been done both on a national level, as in France's 35-hour workweek, and on the company-union level, for example the agreement between Volkswagen and its union to temporarily reduce the workweek to 29 hours to preserve jobs. This policy is controversial among economists.

Physical effects of work week length

Psychological effects of work week length

See also

References & Bibliography

Key texts


  • McCarthy, E., & McGaughey, W., Jr. (1989). Nonfinancial economics: The case for shorter hours of work. New York, NY, England: Praeger Publishers.


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Additional material




  • Allen, D. C. (1992). Part-time employment: An empirical investigation of hourly work schedules and job attitudes, job behaviors, and paths to turnover: Dissertation Abstracts International.
  • Athan, P. W., & McCord, L. C. (1973). The implications for reduced working hours in a hospital setting: Dissertation Abstracts International Vol.
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  • Zirbel, D. D. (1985). Job satisfaction between part-time and full-time grocery employees: Dissertation Abstracts International.

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