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Ask HN: Should engineering jobs have a nap time?
47 points by addict3d on Mar 10, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 67 comments
As an engineer with a full-time job I am usually juggling contracts on the side and not getting enough sleep. My days of mentally taxing coding all day can make me tired in the middle of the day. Does anyone else have this experience and do you think it's reasonable to request the company you work for to provide a nap time?

EDIT: Grammar

You: "Hey, you know that 40-hour work week we have in order to give us enough time for rest and relaxation?"

Boss: "Yep. What about it?"

You: "So instead of getting enough sleep at night I've been using that time to take on lots of extra paid work for other companies. To make up for it, can you give me time off to sleep at work?"

Boss: ಠ_ಠ

> 40-hour work week

Where in the software industry are you working a 40-hour week? Outside of government, I've never heard of a programming job that consistently limits employees to 40-hour weeks.

> I've never heard of a programming job that consistently limits employees to 40-hour weeks.

Limits? Perhaps not, but I've been in this industry for 25 years and in all the hundreds of projects I've completed, I've never had a single project where I was told I had to provide more than 40 hours of work per week for 40 hours pay. There have been many that I have voluntarily contributed more than that because I felt it was warranted or I needed to, but that was on me, not my employer. If you are putting yourself in a position where you feel obligated to provide time over and above what you are being paid for, then you don't truly value your time - and that's one commodity that you can never get back. If your boss doesn't respect that your work life balance, then you need to own the fact that you haven't gained their respect for your time and fix it, not blame or paint stereotypes of "the software industry."

In all industries there are shitty employers, bosses, employees, customers, vendors (and any other relationship endpoint I've forgotten) but in my experience, those relationships all boil down to respect. If you don't have the respect you require in the relationship, you need to own that and either gain that respect or walk away.

You can work anywhere in the software industry and only work a 40 hour week if you haul ass in those 40 hours to deliver what is expected and get the respect you require to only need to work those 40 hours.

If you're not able to deliver what is expected inside of those 40 hours then you need to ask yourself the hard questions - are you doing everything you can to deliver? If you truly are doing everything you can, then you need to set better expectations with your employer.

If the work really can't be completed in those 40 hours, you need to stand up and give more realistic estimates so that your employer can make better resource management decisions. If they're not willing to consider your professional judgment and fund the resources to do the work in the amount of time you're willing to give, then you need to get your resume out, because there are plenty of places and jobs for talented software developers where employer expectations are realistic and there is respect for your time.

In what universe / on what drugs is it possible to crank out more than eight hours of decent programming per day? Even eight hours a day would be too much for me.


Try more like 4 (and that's a stretch)

I've recruited for a mix of startups and large companies over my career (all startups now), and I've had lots of clients that were working straight 40s with the occasional overtime. I've also had companies that wanted 60+ hours, but the 40 hour work week in software is not nearly as rare as people seem to think.

I work in Sweden and usually works 40 hours per week, if I work more I can take it off any other day of my choice.

I have never worked at a job where they required me to work more than 40 hours, even if I've come across work cultures where people consistently worked more.

Funny thing is that we actually have a rest room where one can take a nap if you want to. I've never used it though.

Working overtime is the exception, not the rule. Maybe not in change-the-world Capitalization-as-a-Service SV, but in the majority of the places I've worked you are expecting to work your 8 hours a day and leave. Some even view a lot of overtime as a negative sign since you can't finish your full-time work in a full-time schedule.

Can you name the industry vertical, please? I'm genuinely curious.

By the way, working overtime is not viewed as a negative when quite literally everyone around you (mostly 20-year olds with no family) is working 60+ hours/week. Quite the opposite. And no, this was no start-up.

I've worked in healthcare, finance, logistics, and consulting in a technical capacity and healthcare and politics in a non-technical capacity. Both the non-tech jobs expected 60+ hours a week (politics considerably more). Only with the logistics programming job was I regularly asked to work past 5 or over a weekend.

Aerospace. If I have to put in a 50 hour week, something's gone horribly wrong and its probably an "all hands on deck" situation.

Finance industry, UK. 35 hour weeks.

With spikes to more, of course, when vital. But only when there's a regulatory deadline, or something has gone seriously wrong.

>With spikes to more, of course, when vital

Not doubting your situation, but pretty much every job I've had has told me, "40 hours, unless it's vital!", followed by much apparently "vital" work.

That said, I can't believe the OP isn't trolling. Asking for a nap at work because you're taking on too much extra work after-hours?

> Not doubting your situation, but pretty much every job I've had has told me, "40 hours, unless it's vital!", followed by much apparently "vital" work.

Thank you, I was beginning to think there was a gigantic industry conspiracy against me and my friends, while the rest of you are off sipping martinis at 5 p.m.

That said, I can readily believe the 40/hour week situation is different in Europe. However, on average, European developers do get paid significantly less than N. American developers, so it's not like everything is totally equal here.

Software developers across banks in London are well paid. Consultants even more so. 40 hours or is normal, it's not an exception. (Source: been doing it for many years, at many banks)

I'm intrigued, particularly since the finance industry in the US has given me the (uninformed) impression that extreme overtime is routine. But maybe that's among traders more than back office developers or quants.

You get what you negotiate for yourself. I've worked something like four weeks of more than 40 hours in the last ten years.

My last gig I averaged around 36 hours/week for the first few years, then dropped down to four day weeks for the next couple years, bringing me down to 28-30 hour weeks most of the time.

I'm sure they would have been happy to have me bill more hours. But at the end of the day it's your choice. If you want to work sane hours, you certainly can.

(Edit to stave off the obvious followup: US citizen, US companies. Contracting/Consulting)

At a company that makes money and treats their employees well?

Depends what country you live in. I'm in the UK and 40 hour or less weeks are extremely common.

Yep. I've had just two roles in a 25 year career that consistently wanted more:

A contract that charged by the hour, so I wasn't that reluctant. The novelty wore off after a few months though. My second development job had management who tried guilt tripping everyone into giving free overtime every day.

Every job I've ever had in Sweden was a (actual) 40-hour work week. Whenever I have to work much more than 40 hours I simply take the extra time off later as a matter of course.

Midsize software development company in the midwest

I love Basecamp. I've grown very fond of their ideology of how to run a proper business that doesn't see their staff as slaves.

I am modeling the business I am building after them. As of right now I am technically the only employee, but I don't work more than 9 hours a day if I don't want to. I'm also thinking about doing their Summer Hours thing too.

I work on Automotive software in Germany, and my week is 40 hrs. Of course, it spikes on hot phases but these are quite rare.

What industry are you in that is over 40hrs?

Let me reiterate:

- You take on contracts on the side and do not get enough sleep because of that.

- You think the company you work for should maybe compensate you with some time to sleep during their working time.

What happened when you asked the people you do some contracting for if you could sleep an hour and bill them your hourly for that?

I would think it reasonable for your full-time gig to respond in the exact same way as your freelance gig would.

You hit the nail on the head. I can not imagine reacting any other way if an engineer on my team asked for nap time.

The funny part is that your expectation is probably "I get the legitimate 1 hour of work instead of them taking a nap" but the reality is "I get 4-5 hours of poor quality work after lunch due to lack of nap".

Make sure to keep the context here. HN on occasion discusses napping at work and nap policies, and the discussion is usually pretty sensible.

This, however, is basically "Should my employer give me a benefit because I'm tired from working for other people?", which is, well, let me settle for "definitely not the same question".

In this case you can make a strong case that the employer in question isn't so much on the hook for providing nap time, but justified in firing you for not being able to keep up your end of the bargain because of your choices.

So wouldn't the answer to this be not to give them paid naps, but to eliminate the reason they need the nap in the first place? Most people take on side work because they don't make enough at their day job. So maybe re-evaluate their compensation and maybe raise it a bit?

This is a never ending cycle of people chasing more and more money. If you're paying them fair market value for the area, then there's little point in giving them a pay rise for asking for a nap because they're tired. Chances are, they're chasing contract gigs because they have their own interests in the work or they just see the dollar signs - I know I do it... but I also know that come 10pm I'm wasted and have to hit the hay to start it all at 6am again the next day.

Not that I particularly endorse the idea, but what if it was shown to unambiguously produce a better product?

At that point, are you not arguing what you perceive to be a moral issue, not one of producing value for your clients?


Why not just work split shifts then? 8-12 and 4-8, if you want to nap in the middle that's your prerogative.

The issue is paying the employee to sleep.

But then they'll just jam another contract in that 4 hours... they won't sleep.

The issue isn't paying the employee to sleep, that's just a symptom of the real issue:

The issue is poor time and resource management or poor setting of client expectations on the part of the employee. They're not setting expectations well enough to manage their time and get the sleep they need to do the job they agreed to do when they were hired.

So realistically, if they're not doing the job we contractually agreed to, this should be disciplinary. If you're not living the life you need to meet the contractual obligation you agreed to, we need to review, renegotiate or cancel the contract. I don't care what you do outside of what I'm paying you to do, but if it's impacting your ability to do what I hired you for, then we need to talk - because I need someone that does what I need them to for us to get paid, if we're not getting paid, how long do you think I'm going to be able to afford to pay you?

I have budgets, product quality, deadlines and client expectations to manage as well. We're a team, if anyone on that team aren't able to function for the good of the team, then that needs to be fixed accordingly.

I agree in the OP's case this is a disciplinary issue. I would argue it's cause for termination but I imagine that's a minority opinion here.

I was referring to hobs's suggestion that a mid-day nap increase employee productivity and work quality. That may very well be the case but I still wouldn't pay employees to nap in the middle of the day.

To be clear, I dont think it is a minority opinion, I have fired half a dozen people for sleeping on the job, it was against policy and it was unprofessional in the workplace I was a part of.

My point is that things we think may be taboo could in fact be beneficial if we are willing to reconsider the assumptions that it is based upon.

Anyway, thank you for letting me play devil's advocate :)

Because I am not asking about when someone should sleep or not.

I am asking if paying someone to do something would produce an unambiguously better product, why argue with the practice unless its harmful/illegal/etc?

If I create software and I find that if I pay my employees to sleep and they create a better product than if they worked for 8 hours without me paying them to sleep?

You can blame the employees, but if you decide to ignore this practice and your competitor takes it up, they will beat you in the market while you complain about paying people to sleep.

The only reasonable reaction to being asked to pay for someone to take a nap in the middle of the day is to fire them.

I work at a software company in China. Like clockwork, at 1pm, the lights are cut, shades are drawn, then everybody pulls little beds out from their desks and takes a nap. It struck me as quite strange the first time I observed it. The actual work day is something like 10-12 hours including nap/lunch/dinner/goofing off time, with probably about the same amount of actual work as in an American office. I am unable to adapt to this, even when I am exhausted, so I use the time to go to the gym or just keep working.

My workplace has a "Wellness Room". It's just a room with a lockable door and a couch. Probably once every week on average, when I'm feeling beat, I'll lay down and set my phone alarm for 20 minutes. It really helps. That said, I agree that prefacing this with the bit about side work does seem to undercut the question. In general, naps are good, but also not eating a ton of carbs over lunch will help prevent you from crashing in the afternoon!

My work-from-home superpower is that if I'm feeling sleepy (baby woke me up, slept poorly, whatever), I can take a quick (30 min or so) nap in the early afternoon and when I wake up, I feel refreshed, wide-awake, and make far better decisions and have far better productivity than if I tried to slog through.

When I used to work in an office, that would end up being a coffee run or some sort of other distraction to try and get the energy up... Or simply staring at the screen for a few hours and answering emails.

You are burning the candle at both ends and need to own your own problems since you created them.

That said, I give the folks on my team an hour per day for "stuff". Reading blogs, exploring the new-shiny JS framework or nap if you want. Devs absolutely need free space in their mind to let the subconscious solve problems. Its art and science - art needs room and science needs focus.

Trying to do too much leaves you doing less, with poor quality, which just piles up escaped defects and adds pressure.

You have to go slow to go fast

This is simply about priorities. You, or your time are not more important than the people cutting cheques to you. Your only job in side gigs or main jobs is to add value.

I'll say it again, your job is to add more value than you are paid by a job or freelancer. It's a tricky balance. You are hired full-time to give full time results, and being prepared to do so is your job is your non-full time hours which you can choose to spend.

Asking your full-time job to subsidize your time and energy to make money elsewhere doesn't make a lot of sense.

There is a capacity limit for every human being and you may need to rethink your business model, bring on help, and pick up management skills to not work harder, but perhaps work less and make more for those hours worked.

Things don't get easier, you just get better if you dive a bit more into achieving your goals in a way that aren't at the expense of others.

I disagree with the other comments here about your extra work. Your time outside work is your own and there are a dozen reasons why there are days a nap will be beneficial (kids of almost any age come to mind). However, you probably have enough time to nap just not the place to do so.

Most jobs will give you close to an hour for lunch and maybe even another short break during the day. That's plenty of time to nap, so long as there is somewhere quiet, private, and somewhat dark to lean back and shut your eyes for 15 minutes.

Sleeping is kinda like going to the bathroom in that you need a few fixtures and some privacy. All that is needed is someway to recline with your feet up (typically better for naps than lying directly down anyway) with some privacy. That's probably reasonable to ask for as long as its during the time you already get for a break.

I'd say that's completely unreasonable and here's why:

I pay you to do a job that provides value to my company. You're not providing that value while you're sleeping. You can have nap time, but I'm not paying you to nap. As a coder and software architect myself, I understand that it takes a fresh mind to deliver your best work so I understand the need for sleep and you should have as much as you need - but I'm paying you to do a job, not sleep. You sleep on your own dime, not mine. If you're not coming to work fresh enough to provide what we agreed to when you accepted the job, then why are you still coming to work?

This question is phrased badly because of the "side jobs". But anyways - I frequently sleep on my lunch breaks. Naps are great, clears my head. I'm most productive right when I get into work and right after lunch nap.

Also to those using, "Well you're only going to get 4 hours productive time anyways" - I disagree. The key to working long productive hours is taking short breaks. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlU-zDU6aQ0

This is a interesting question to me just for the fact it is asking what can we request from higher management. I was always told when being offer a new job everything was negotiable till you sign the papers. Maybe that is the time you are suppose to request a period in which to take naps? Would you ask to be able to take naps on site at your desk? Would they tell you, you can take naps as long as it is off site like the smokers? What would the company have to provide for you to be able to take a nap? How long would a nap be? I don't think a company should have to provide nap time, but I do think it isn't a crazy request as long as you take it serious. Also remember when you make a request from the company, you are also making a request for everyone else at the company to have the same privileges. You getting approve for nap time would make it possible for anyone else at the company to get approve for nap time.

> Does anyone else have this experience and do you think it's reasonable to request the company you work for to provide a nap time?

Yes, definitely. Word it as an extended lunch time though. Also, remark your productivity boost, which is what they really care about.

you could work in spain. Everyone gets a 2 hour nap time - it's ciesta baby!

Normally you get a lunch pause which can take anything between 30-120 minutes. Up to you how long the pause takes, later you have to compensate obviously.

I often have been the only guy at the office who took naps at lunch time.

That's not true. The correct name is 'siesta' as well.

Not true at all. The concept of "siesta" exists, but nobody does it at work. It's mostly something for retired people with a lot of free time and not much to do.

So what do all the retail staff do when the shops close between 12 and 3?

Only small shops do this, and it's more of a 1-to-4 thing. I guess they could... I don't know, have lunch, spend time with their family, do some chores?

Besides, you can't expect a small store with one or two employees (e.g. a bookshop) to be open from 9 AM to 8 PM without any breaks in between.

Spaniard here. I've never seen any spaniard nap at work in Spain. I've seen people nap in chinese companies though (in Spain and in China).

Agreeing with some of the other comments here; side jobs is not a good story here. If you have a fulltime contract at that company and your side jobs are making you sleepy then you should quite those side jobs. Besides that; a programmer/engineer can do maybe 4 hours of coding a day. I notice that when I have a siesta (I take a 1 hour nap after lunch) I am sharper and more focused and can do more hours. And it really makes me feel a lot better as well. Then again; I don't juggle contracts on the side anymore as that sucked the life out of me with or without naps.

It would be nice if offices had black sound-proof pods which we could lay inside when we want to take a short nap.

I think it's also important to take holidays from time to time. Coding can get really exhausting mentally after a while and an occasional 2+ weeks holiday allows you to clear your head.

A lot of software developers spend time thinking about the projects that they're working on while outside of work hours - When you're working on two or more projects simultaneously, this effect is magnified and it can be overwhelming.

I don't think he was referring to "on the clock." Also, doesn't have to be another project could be wife and kids your trying to juggle at night.

Well, juggling wife and kids does sound strenuous! ;)

I'd be looking at your diet and eating times if you're getting the '3 o'clock slump' and need a snooze during the day.

for me it's 1 o'clock. of course I eat at 11.

Why not just reorganise things? Instead of asking for nap time, just ask for an hour during the day to carry out side contract work.

Much simpler and clearer.

This question is ridiculous.

I think you'd have an easier time asking for a raise so that you wouldn't feel a need to take side-contracts anymore.

i sometimes have sleep problems, so i do take some time off to nap in the middle of the day if my work quality is impaired and if there are no pressing issues. i do stop the clock on those though, so my company isn't paying me for the nap time.

This way you could cut sleep at night even more and take another side-project!


lame to need naps because of side projects.

not lame to need naps -- for 20yrs, I've taken naps when I'm stuck on a problem, literally "sleeping on it". Works like a charm.

Great troll, 10/10

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