“The Work Day’s Over — We Mean It!”

clockFor some salaried professionals, the 40-hour work week may seem like one of those purple unicorns — widely talked about but never seen. Forget 40 hours — their work weeks often entail 50, 60 or even more hours, especially when you’re counting time spent on the phone or the laptop at home.

United Shore Financial Services is having none of that. At the Michigan-based wholesale mortgage firm, the policy is “firm 40” — when 6 p.m. rolls around, everyone leaves the office to go home, and there’s to be no working from home or on the weekend, either. Of course, this also means that work hours are strictly for work, and not for perusing Facebook.

“You give us 40, everything else is yours,” Laura Lawson, United Shore’s chief people officer, tells the Wall Street Journal.

United Shore is one of several companies profiled by the Journal that have firm 40 policies in place. They include a couple of HR vendors — Bamboo HR and myHR Partner Inc. — as well. The companies believe that working longer than 40 hours does not lead to greater productivity, that in fact it is probably counterproductive in the long term.

Stanford University Professor John Pencavel agrees. His research shows that workers who routinely put in more than 40 hours per week become less productive over time, reports the Journal.

Allentown, Pa.-based myHRPartner Inc. says its firm 40 policy helps it attract talent — three open positions at the company recently attracted 663 applicants, the company tells the Journal.

As mentioned previously, however, strictly limiting work to no more than 40 hours hardly means slacking off: At software developer Never Settle, employees can be penalized for working less than 40 hours a week by losing vacation time (employees who work too many hours can also be punished thusly). At BambooHR, the COO will tell some employees “It feels like you’re not putting in the full 40.”

Interestingly, many of us may not actually be putting in the “insane” amount of hours we think we are: The Journal cites research showing that the actual number of hours worked by salaried professionals has stayed fairly constant over the years, hovering at around just over 43 hours per week. Still, that’s three extra hours that could probably be better spent.