What Is A Reasonable Work Week?

Can I do well and still have time for my family?

Hi, I’m Marko. I’m 17-years-old and I come from Croatia. I plan to enroll in the Faculty of Civil Engineering.

It bothers me that a lot of civil engineers have told me that they travel a lot and work 70 hours a week. How much time should a man spend at work? I fear I will not have enough time for my wife and children.

I look forward to your reply and thank you in advance.

~ Marko P.

Dear Marko,

You can hardly imagine how impressed we both are at your maturity and foresightedness. We tend to disparage the terminology and culture of adolescence because it prolongs childhood and postpones assuming responsibility for one’s life. You have certainly done so in terms of already thinking seriously about two of your 5 Fs, namely Family and Finance. As you have rightly observed, they can often be in conflict and we always encourage parents to help their sons and daughters start to understand these important life matters as early as possible.

In the early years of our own marriage part of our work in leading a Jewish congregation in California was the task of starting up a Jewish elementary school. Most of the parents of the pupils we enrolled had little religious background or knowledge. A condition of enrollment was that all parents attend a monthly class with us to help keep them and their children on the same page. One of the questions we raised with these couples early on was how many days a month was it reasonable for a man to be away from his family earning a living. We asked husbands and wives to answer separately and then compare their answers. Most of the couples were shocked at how much lower the women’s answers were from those of their husbands. As you can imagine it led to much useful conversation about the tensions between Family and Finances. For many of these men and women, this was the first time they had seriously confronted this question.

That is why we are so impressed that at the age of 17, you are already looking ahead to marriage and family as well as establishing a work path. We have minimal knowledge of the economic conditions in Croatia, so we don’t know if a 70-hour-week is common for lucrative career paths or if civil engineering is an outlier. Perhaps make contact with an advisor at the Faculty of Civil Engineering at the university in Zagreb or Rijeka and ask them your question. Furthermore, we are very happy to have quite a few Happy Warriors in Croatia and we hope that some of them might possibly join this conversation and perhaps provide insights based on local knowledge. The questions you want answered include, can a man make a living and support a family without such an intense investment of time? Are those hours necessary only in the first few years on the job, while you are gaining skills and experience, or do they remain ongoing for the long-term?

Assuming a five-day-workweek, or even a six-day one, you are correct that this type of schedule leaves almost no time for family and personal development. While sometimes it is necessary to work this many hours, for example during difficult economic times or when one is an immigrant in a new country, it does seem extreme to choose this if there is another alternative.

You didn’t mention why you are drawn to civil engineering but with the rapid development of Croatia and its busy program of building roads, bridges, airports and other major infrastructure, civil engineering is surely a good way to serve your fellow citizens.

Please reach out to some potential employers now by means of carefully written letters, describe your interests and your intended course of study at the Faculty of Civil Engineering and ask how you could obtain a feeling for the life of a civil engineer. Perhaps you might be able to spend a day or two ‘shadowing’ a civil engineer who would be willing to mentor you. Remember Genesis 2:19, ‘…it is not good for man to be alone’ so reach out now and start already building relationships with professionals in the field of civil engineering.

By starting to ask questions now, you have time to explore your options. Take stock of your interests and talents and look outside the box to see if there are other roads to take. Your question is a valid one and your concern is real.

Please keep us in the picture as you move forward,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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