Spring brings a time crunch for teen librarians everywhere: as the school year wraps up, public librarians must amp up for summer reading, and school librarians must set the media center to rights in those last, finals-crammed weeks. There is no easier time of year to overwork ourselves. However, if we wish our superiors to know our value, and if we care for a true work-life balance, the 40 hour work week must be honored.
The 40 hour work week became standard in America by the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938. Since that time, employees have been expected to work 40 hours a week, with salaried employees (such as most full-time librarians) exempted from the overtime pay awarded to hourly employees. Countless studies conducted throughout the early 20th century by universities, the military, and business and industry associations, supported the increased productivity of the 40 hour work week, to the point that “’[i]n 1962, the Chamber of Commerce even published a pamphlet extolling the productivity gains of reduced hours.’” Additional studies demonstrated that productivity decreases when employees work over 8 hours a day, with the fine-line exception of a short burst of overtime resulting in short-term gains (such as creating Summer Reading Program promotional materials before your scheduled school visits, when the raw materials do not arrive until a week before your visits).
Given the available evidence, we teen librarians should stick to working 40 hours a week. Despite our passionate belief in the importance of our programs and services, can-do attitudes, and general helpfulness, we discredit the value of our time, overestimate how much we can reasonably accomplish, and prevent our superiors from recognizing the need for additional employees, when we consistently log 50 and 60 hour work weeks. Without knocking the importance of workplace efficiency or volunteering for committees and organizations, the point here is to not sell yourself short. You are being paid for your time each week, and you devalue that time when you consistently contribute more than what is in your contract.
Early in my career I fell victim to the siren call of Silicon Valley types who encourage living for the job. After all, success stories of great Americans from Olympic champions to Michelle Rhee spoke again and again to their dogged pursuit of betterment, i.e. 90 hour work weeks. Predictably, burnout ensued. At this point in my career, I have decided to leave the 90 hour work week to those great American heroes. As for me, I will be doing my part as a humble Youth Services Librarian, at 40 hours a week.
How do you maintain a 40 hour work week? Do you maintain a 40 hour work week?
Tell us in the comments.
T-shirt image references the infamous t-shirts and hoodies emblazoned with “90 Hours/Week and Loving It” that Steve Jobs distributed to his employees while developing the Macintosh.
 “Handy Reference Guide to the FLSA.” Compliance Assistance – Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). U.S. Department of Labor, Web. 20 May 2012..
 Robinson, Sara. “Why We Have to Go Back to a 40-Hour Work Week to Keep Our Sanity.” Visions. Alternet, 13 Mar. 2012. Web. 20 May 2012..
 S.J. Chapman’s Theory of the Hours of Labour. Ed. Tom Walker. TimeWork Web, May 1999. Web. 27 May 2012..
 “There was one exception to this rule. Research by the Business Roundtable in the 1980s found…” from Robinson, Sara. “Why We Have to Go Back to a 40-Hour Work Week to Keep Our Sanity.” Visions. Alternet, 13 Mar. 2012. Web. 20 May 2012..