Many people tend to extend their working hours with the intention of getting additional work done. The idea is if they put in a bit of extra time their productivity will increase and more work will get accomplished.

The interesting part is that while many people believe clocking in extra hours gets them ahead in their tasks, in reality it usually has the opposite effect. According to a report published by CNBC in January 2015, roughly half of U.S. workers put in over 50 hours of work each week, usually without overtime. 1

If you consistently put in extra hours and regularly work late, you could be hurting your own productivity. Research also suggests output significantly decreases for those that routinely burn the midnight oil working. There are many reasons why productivity decreases when you work late. A few of the top ways you might be hurting your own productivity include:

Bring Yourself to the Burnout Point

Working late puts stress on both your brain and your body. If you constantly work late you'll eventually suffer from burnout and you may even become sick. Over the course of time, working excessively can contribute to decreased health. Ironically, working extra those hours with the intent to get more tasks done eventually impacts work performance and, in effect, brings your productivity down.

Credit: Geralt/Pixabay CC0 Public Domain

Working too many hours can lead to stress, exhaustion and other physical symptoms, such as migraines.

Make More Errors

If you are working late and your body and mind are tired, you are likely prone to make more errors. Some mistakes may be minor, but others might be more costly – to your employer, hence to your career too. Since you're probably not at your most alert state after working a 10+ hour day, you may not immediately notice how this can impact the quality of your work, but chances are your bosses and colleagues will.

If the quality is not up to standard you may even have to redo some of the completed work in order to bring it up to par. This ultimately brings down your level of productivity and negates the reason of why you worked late in the first place.

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Is working too many hours really useful? 

Work at a Sluggish Rate

After you've put in a full day of work and then continue to churn out work in the late hours your work pace is more than likely going to slow down. The human body is built to need rest and everything tends to slow down when a person is tired. If you are working late at a much slower pace than the steady or quicker pace you would have been able to achieve during the earlier part of the day when more alert, then working late is not productive.

Working at a steady pace and more alert state of mind is more efficient and effective. It is probable much more work can be done when you aren't so tired. Studies have suggested employee output sharply declines after a 50-hour work week and “falls off a cliff after 55 hours”, says CNBC in its report. Not to mention, workers that put in this number of hours tend to have higher absenteeism and turnover rates.

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Working at a slug's pace is not more productive in the end.

Other studies have supported these findings. For instance, a study by Erin Reid, a professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, found managers couldn’t tell a difference between the outputs of employees who worked 80 hours a week vs. those who pretended to put in those hours. In the end no evidence was found that employees working more accomplished more than their colleagues who weren’t working as long. (Study results courtesy Harvard Business Review). 2

Increased Frustration

There are some people who are clearly workaholics and, for whatever their personal reasons are, can’t help themselves by putting in extra hours. However, there is another type of employee who is only putting in the extra time because he or she has been ordered to do so or because he or she is so swamped, that working excessive hours feels like the only way to keep afloat. For people who fall in the latter category, putting in too many hours a week will typically end up in resentment and morale will plummet. Over the long-term, this too impacts productivity. Organizational studies suggest a direct link between morale and productivity levels.

Lack of Sleep Harms Productivity

Working excessive hours ultimately results in less sleep. People require sleep in order to re-energize, rejuvenate and function; the human body is built to need these three in order to sustain. If you continually work a disproportionate number of hours, you aren't giving yourself that chance to revitalize and recharge your inner battery.

In the long run, clocking in those excess hours isn’t going to get work done. Or, if it does, chances are it won’t be the same quality. Instead, you will more than likely bring your productivity down even if you had good intentions to bring it up. Research has found that going for long periods of time without adequate sleep induces impairment and is likened to being intoxicated. 3

Exhausted dog
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What to Do About It?

If you find these signs describe you, it probably means it is time to make some changes. Not only are you hurting your productivity, your home life is likely suffering too. Obviously, cutting back your hours is the first step, but that might be easier said than done. You can also try taking a look at other aspects of your life.

  • Develop better time-management skills
  • Learn good work-life balance strategies
  • Outline necessary tasks and note down those which probably aren’t as time-sensitive as you think
  • Keep away from your mobile during off-hours. Aside from putting in extra hours, you could avoid potentially embarrassing situations.
  • Make an effort to be home for dinner each night and have quality family time
  • Eat healthy and drink plenty of water

Additionally, ask yourself why you are working so many hours. If you are honest with yourself, chances are you are putting undue and unnecessary stress on yourself. If it’s inner drive that is pushing with you, seek other outlets (i.e. exercise or a hobby) that can satisfy that need.  

There are many solid reasons why working late can hinder productivity. This is not to say a long day here and there will do harm, it’s the regularity of doing it that can cause the most damage.