ASK HOLLY: I think my co-worker's lazy. But how many hours should you work in a day?

Welcome to Mamamia's advice column, DON'T FREAK OUT, where Holly Wainwright solves your most personal and problematic dilemmas with her sage wisdom. If you have a drama you need solved, email us at — you can be anonymous of course because otherwise, awks.

Dear Holly,

I think I am, generally, a hard-working person. I was recently having a chat with a colleague about how many hours a day she considers herself to be productive. In an 8-hour day, she thought that if were if four to six hours were productive, that is pretty good.

I was shocked. I know I put pressure on myself but that seems like an easy day to me. I think the occasional day like that is okay but every day - no!

What would an employer expect in productivity at work? How do you manage yourself if you are over achieving? Is this an age and stage in life thing too? (I am 50 years old). How many hours should you work in a workday?

Thank you,

Hard Work

Dear Hard Work,

How many hours are you getting paid for? That's how many you should be working.

Except... when it's someone's birthday in the office, and everyone stands around to sing and eat cake for a bit. You don't have to add those minutes on to the other end of the day.

Or... that time you spent making small talk with your boss when they stopped you in the corridor to chat about the holidays because their executive coach told them they need to be more personable.


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Or... the time you spend listening to Stella from accounts talking about her cats because if you don't, she won't process those invoices.

Or, that breather you had in between tasks when you opened Instagram for a few minutes and looked at your neighbour's new axolotl?

Or... toilet time.

Or... the time you were in the kitchen, making a cup of tea. No need to count those minutes.

Or, is there?

I used to be like you, Hard Work, always wondering if the people around me were doing as much as I was. I was in the office early, I was still there, late. I was powering through toilet breaks, some days, always a lot to do. Hustle, hustle, hustle.


Having a lunch break? Must be nice. Bit of small talk across the desk about tonight's Hinge date? Come on, keep it moving. Leaving one-minute after designated knock-off time? Bloody part-timer.

I still am a bit like you, Hard Work. I hear myself passing this on to my daughter, with her first part-time job. The shift goes faster if you're busy, I say. There's always something that needs doing, I say. Don't be standing around waiting to be given a job, I say.

Workers, grafters, we are.

And don't we feel good about it?

But here's the thing. Culturally, there's been a shift. A shift from 'be here at this time' and 'stay 'til this time' to - 'just get all this stuff done and you're good to go'.

Measuring output, they call it. So, if your coworker can get her work done in four to six hours, if she's not leaving a big pile of work for someone else (maybe you?) to pick up, if she's not doing a half-arsed job, and she's not taking the piss (e.g. lying about how busy she is), then maybe her version of productivity is just fine.

Because the problem with being one of those people, like us, who thin-slice people by how hard they appear to be working, is that we can get pretty judgey. We equate our version of hard work with being a Good Person.

And what do we know, really?

That person who's always at their desk might be (probably is) looking for a great mid-century bar unit on Marketplace, while that one who ran out of the door at 4.59pm had powered through every project on their list and prepped entirely for the next day.


And the other problem with us grafters is why just stop at work hours being the ones you need to cram with productivity?

What about the ones when we're at home with our families? Better not sit down, there's washing needs folding, sisters need calling back, table needs wiping, fridge needs emptying. Better not watch TV and drink tea, better be studying, journaling, writing my to-do lists... And then, inevitably, we fall over, or just moan to our loved ones about how busy we are until they take themselves off our to-do lists.

Your coworker may or may not be lazy, but she's not as stressed as you. And so she'd live longer, and have more days to be productive in. Who wins then?

So. Don't worry about how many productive hours your friend is doing, unless it's giving you more work. In which case, definitely, definitely dob her in to the boss and their executive coach.

Holly x

P.S: Seven, the answer's seven out of eight. That way, there's time for cake.

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