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Is full-time work bad for our brains? (bbc.com)
227 points by bojo on July 18, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 212 comments

Stretching 2 hours of work into an 8-9 hour day through meetings and sneaky Reddit/hn usage is certainly bad for our brains. But this is the norm as long as managers interpret productivity as butts in seats.

As much as I agree with that I'm still at a loss as to why butts in seats management is still so dominant today.

It's almost as if everybody wakes up, reads Dilbert every morning thinking "Wow, that PHB guy certainly is a role model to aspire to."

It's not as if these patterns can't be changed:

The required technology has been available for more than a decade now.

There are tried and tested approaches for organizing work in a more productive and healthy manner than 9-5.

Still, it isn't happening at a larger scale. While the reasons might simply be risk-aversion or - on a more sinister note - a somewhat implicit understanding that our society is built around a 40 hr work week and we'd face serious upheaval if that was no longer a given, I find those reasons to be tenuous at best in the long run.

As much as I agree with that I'm still at a loss as to why butts in seats management is still so dominant today.

Because managers up a level have no other way of knowing if you're being productive or not. So they look and see if people are ferociously typing. This is not a joke.

Yes, a place where I used to work once sent out a memo trying to encourage more regular work hours because management couldn't find people, and the office always looked half empty. The thing is, it was the operations staff for a astronomical observatory. The "missing" people were generally traveling and/or working at night!

I used to work in research physics and recall hearing a similar story, probably embellished with each retelling. The version I heard had the staff complying with the order and working 9-5, then management complains that no observations are being made at night.

Well, in this case, I personally received the memo. Knowing my co-workers, however, I highly doubt anyone actually changed their behaviour due to it. Other, similar, management antics included scheduling meetings first thing in the morning and complaining that the telescope operators never showed up.

Haha. I have no problem believing that this has happened at several different observatories.

I mean, this is the internet—it could very well be the same one!

that's why I am sometimes envious of sales guys or traders. Their work is easily measurable.

In my experience, the more easily measurable the work, the less fulfilling it is.

The value they add is easily measurable, but it's still quite difficult to tell whether their performance is due to individual merit or external factors.

For example, in any given year some traders are wildly successful (and reap huge bonuses) but year to year their performance is variable enough to be noise - it's not clear that really good traders really exist. Some are just bound to get lucky.

Similarly sales guys may appear great because their product sells itself, or terrible because of a downturn in the business cycle or sector.

It's not insane to want a read on "how hard are you working" or "how skilled are you" that is independent of all the messy confounding variables of the market.

Because those of us who believe otherwise usually get beaten out and decide to not run businesses any more.

My confounder doesn't like hiring, likes to have a huge pile of cash in the bank to no particular end, and sends people shitty emails if they're late in the morning.

He's successfully killed off enthusiasm and passion for getting things done (mine included), and now people are either making time or leaving.

We got crazy amounts done back when I wasn't cto and was still allowed to lead the tech team - because we'd work from 1pm until the early hours, myopically working on stuff because it was fun to create. That got slowly but surely strangled by timekeeping, requiring people to be in for 0900 (even if they were up half the night working support), and requiring that people only work from the office.

It's impossible to push back against without continuous effort, and eventually one throws the towel in.

Conservatism is easy as it requires you to just maintain the status quo, hence it is the norm in business - whereas change requires effort. It then turns into an endurance race, which can only go one way.

Edit: I don't know why I bother commenting here any more.

Wow, I've worked with "that guy" before as well. Like you said, it's a retreat to the status quo, and conservatism is a common response to feeling overwhelmed or like an imposter.

I now recognize it as a very accurate warning sign, this person has moved from trying whatever they can to help the business succeed to trying whatever they can to cover their ass and put on the appearance that they did all they could.

In our case it's more like newtonian mechanics - for every force there is an equal and opposing force. I've always pushed for growth, for hiring, for bigger clients, for new avenues, for risk - and he has always challenged and pushed for the status quo, and to not spend, not invest, not grow, make sure every month is profitable.

When we were small, my view was dominant, as I worked within and with the team, and we didn't have inertia to overcome, and his conservatism was useful as he talked me out of some risks that in hindsight were crazy. It was a good balance.

Now that we've grown rather a bit, his voice is dominant, as we now have a large team who (as a majority, not all) likewise don't want change or risk or growth, and I've been slowly moved diagonally into a vestigial cto role where I have no direct involvement with the tech team, and instead just deal with escalations, internal and external, technical and non-technical. Chief Tortured Officer.

So - the business will stagnate, then die, and I'm helpless to do anything about it.

The sad thing is he thinks this is success. I feel like we've fundamentally failed.

For added laughs, I feel trapped, as if I leave, I abandon my staff who I love to his mercurial whims, and my agreement is structured such that I would have to sell my equity (not options) (fmv in millions) for £60.

So I'll be saluting from the bridge as we go down, like an idiot.

Thanks for sharing your story and your experience so others can learn from it. Please don't stop commenting!

Time to sell and leave. And if that is really the equity structure, make sure you re-negotiate that with the board before talking about leaving, as part of being a C officer.

Can't sell except for the aforementioned £60. Not £60k, £60 - the nominal value of the shares. The only way I can leave and keep my equity is if I die. If I attempt to have that conversation in a board meeting they'll know what's up and will probably fire me - in which case no severance, not even the £60. There's a third party hnw investor who came in a few years ago who's gone from arms length to "where the fuck are you?!", and he sees me as a troublemaker as I do all the talking in board meetings (cofounder is taciturn), and set goals for hiring and growth that never happen as they're strangled in the crib. By staying silent he's kept himself pristine.

So, tough decisions ahead. Do I write off a decade of my life and enter a tough job market with no savings to tide me over (nothing like having your entire value in equity, and a paltry salary (£30k - pay ourselves less than staff, don't do dividends, keep value in company - see above pointless pile of cash)), or do I continue, which will probably see me lose what little sanity I have left.

Of course, there is an option as mentioned which keeps my family financially secure, but despite everything I don't particularly want to kill myself. It feels like a cop-out.

oh, don't worry. you won't have to make any tough decisions. if you don't have vested equity that you keep when you leave, they're just going to fire you as soon as some real money shows up.

Talk to a lawyer.

How the hell did you end up with an equity share with net value to you of £60?

Nominal value. Fair market would be several million. If I leave for any reason other than death I get the nominal value.

Point remains that terms of yor departure are largely controlled by the firm, not you. Including making conditions so untenable your only rational option is to leave.

Again, a solicitor should be able to give you more specific advice.

Thought about this some more. Reading between the lines a bit, so certainly, correct me if I get this wrong.

But it looks like this: your investors are a bigger problem than your partner. First they write this deal where you don't really own your equity, then they don't let you pay yourselves like owners. Seems to me you're really getting screwed. Seriously: what are you getting out of this job besides experience?

I'm afraid you're in the position of a wolf caught in a trap: you're going to have to chew your own leg off to get out. It'll hurt like all hell, but if you don't do it, you'll die.

In fact, the more I think about this, the more fucked-up it seems. The investors have given you the illusion of owning part of this company, but it's a mirage. You have no way to benefit from that equity. You have no authority, you control no budget, you're paid a pittance, and the only way you can monetize your ostensible share of the company is by dying!

You've been taken, and it doesn't sound like there's anything you can do about it (IANAL; maybe you should consult one, but I'm not optimistic they can do anything for you).

As I said: time to chew your leg off and get free.

> he sees me as a troublemaker as I do all the talking in board meetings (cofounder is taciturn)

Okay, you need to figure out who are your allies on your board. Which of the board members espouse the more aggressive profile that you wish to have? You need to approach them privately to discuss how to move the needle. Board meetings are where decisions are rubber-stamped; the real talking happens before the meeting, in one on one conversations.

I mean at this point, you've got nothing to lose, right?

Just the three of us. Those decisions are rubber stamped in boards - I put forth plans for growth, the investor director negotiates and approves, and then I fail to deliver - I see this as my own failing, despite the reason being things like cofounder dismissing a newly hired hiring manager while I'm on holiday because "we don't need to hire".

That said if I sit in a board and point the finger, I'm the ass, not him - and it is after all me that has failed to deliver on my self-imposed initiatives, regardless of what I think the reason is. It can be argued that one can always try harder, but my will has been attrited by this over the years.

> That said if I sit in a board and point the finger, I'm the ass, not him


No amount of money is worth your sanity -- or your life.

Sounds to me like you need to be spending all your spare time looking for another job. If you can get an offer, the decision will be much easier.

"confounder", ha.

In my experience, what does a manager do if there's no one around to manage?

And how do employees get recognized for their contributions if there are no managers to track it?

It's a catch-22. My thought is that if companies simply paid people as much as they could, all of this would go away. You wouldn't even _need_ managers anymore. One of managers' more important roles, liaising between departments, could become their full time job, which would be better for everyone too (less overhead with employee reviews and bullshit like that).

How does this work? Rather than a company asking an employee what their salary range is, the employee asks the company what is the most they can afford to pay you, and they pay you that.

Forgetting the other most important role, coaching people on the team. And yet another one, shelter from outside unrest. Oh, and blame-absorber. And coordinating efforts, when yet again three engineers in three different places work on the same issue.

You know, this is starting to resemble the "what have the romans ever done for us" skit :)

I'm not disagreeing that many managers don't do this. Or that they do it badly. But managers, when they work properly, do a lot more than liaising.

That's the thing, though. Almost no one does their job "properly". They do it well enough to not get fired - thus management is usually inept and useless. So is it the managers fault when they are just fulfilling the norm or is it the job all together? I would suggest management as a position is at fault rather than the people who occupy that space and do the minimum to get by.

Coaching happens naturally within a well-functioning team.

Sheltering a lot of times means that the team is not aware of key information they should be aware of.

Coordination can be accomplished via proper use of communication tools.

Managers have the power to insert themselves at the critical junctions of natural process flows in order to artificially increase their own importance.

The funny thing is, if you do all those things, but you don't "liaise", then it's very likely that your job-title isn't "manager", but rather "administrative assistant." Sadly, I've never heard of a team of engineers having a dedicated admin assistant.

A lot of corporate malaise could be solved, I think, by

1. giving each team the budget to hire their own admin assistant to coordinate and coach for them (but to leave the liase-ing to the team lead), and then

2. firing all the middle-management layers that now serve literally no purpose.

In my experience, what does a manager do if there's no one around to manage?

Deal with weird interpersonal issues of members on the team. Seriously, if you've never been a manager before, it will shock you some of the childish things people complain to you about.

I do agree with you that the ideal is to have the team be self-managing, but there is usually some maturing that needs to happen among the team to reach that goal.

> How does this work? Rather than a company asking an employee what their salary range is, the employee asks the company what is the most they can afford to pay you, and they pay you that.

I still don't see how that works. Your comment seems like it boils down to saying the company should pay the employee more than they're worth (i.e. worth to the business compared to others who could add the same value), but the company has all sorts of obligations to investors, other employees, etc. and spending money just because they can afford to do so today seems like an irresponsible way to run a business.

Sure, but it's just as irresponsible (economically irrational) as an individual to go the other way.

Really, the "optimal" salary negotiation is for both the employer and the potential hire to first agree on a dollar-value of how much money the employee is expected to make the company—literally, what the hire is worth—and then, having come to agreement over that, to then negotiate what profit margin the company wants to keep of that created value.

You might recognize this as the process a hiring agency goes through to negotiate with an employer. In this case, the employee is their own hiring agency, and the one who will end up with the majority "cut."

> My thought is that if companies simply paid people as much as they could, all of this would go away.

It would also go away if employees would simply take whatever the company's first offer is.

Neither are very realistic suggestions.

> the employee asks the company what is the most they can afford to pay you

I infer that people don't do this, or at least similar to this via "what is the budget range for this position" type phrasing.

Is my inference correct? Besides a lack of confidence, why?

Keep commenting. Ignore the bullshit downvotes. I understand weariness when arguing with someone who is hardheaded. They can even be nice, but so stubborn that you are drained by the end of the debate.

Can you name a few companies where this is practiced? Maybe if we all start going to those places (I would happily take less pay for a healthier/happier work life) then maybe our managers would start following them

> I'm still at a loss as to why butts in seats management is still so dominant today.

Most jobs aren't 'creative at any time of the day by oneself' jobs. Support staff can't just clock in at 1pm, because that's when they feel most supportive. Government clerks can't just start and stop when they like, because the counter has to be staffed during office hours. Most office jobs need to have considerable overlap with the times of other people in the office.

Even for programmers, remote work and your own hours is not a clear win. Some people adore it and work well with it, but other people don't do so well in managing their own time. I've worked with people who work remote, make a pretense of busywork, and get little of substance done - but when they were in the office, they got more work done.

Penny-pinching time ("be here at 0900 exactly!"^) is silly, but at the same time, this meme that bosses are automatically bad if they want in-office work and general office hours... it is way too simplistic.

^ funny how those penny-pinchers never demand that you leave on time as well...

> As much as I agree with that I'm still at a loss as to why butts in seats management is still so dominant today.

Don't be at a loss. Political games (or politics) are best played in person. It's the reason for campaign trails among other things.

The managers are also looking for the easiest way through the day. Hence, butts in seat managing. Actually reviewing long term contribution and giving constructive (or even bad) news is hard work. Looking for butts in seats leaves more time for fantasy sports, or whatever.

Why are you so sure that this is a bad thing for our brains? I find it difficult to tell what is work and what isn't (I work from home).

I wonder how studies like this make that distinction. As you say, being at your workplace doesn't necesarily mean you're actually working.

Working from home is unique - many people find lines getting blurred. The bigger difference is in what your downtime is like. Working from home, you can eat or listen to music or go out of the house to the doctor's office. Take a shower, lounge about, talk to the kids or wife or friends or simply goof off.

In the office, you still have to be in the office and looking like you are being productive. Maybe you have to be available for the sporadic work or customer, and you still have to make peace with the annoying coworker. Some places, non-job internet use (even through your phone) is prohibited, so you are sneaking about doing it, always trying to be aware.The whole point is that your time isn't really yours. You are stuck. There. Waiting and passing the time.

Pretending to work often ends up as long term low level stress which is surprisingly bad for you.

Stress is there to deal with physical lions; think long term sacrifice for short term survival not superpowers. The extreme version might be combat, but hyper awareness around threats can apply for much longer periods. Sure, a few hours a week is no big deal, but that's not 4-10 hours a day for decades.

You're describing some things you don't like about being at work, but how do we know which of all these things are actually detrimental to brain function?

Why is programming, being in a meeting, making peace with the annoying coworker or having to be sneaky about reading HN more damaging to our brains than playing a shooter game at home for five hours, having a heated debate with a friend, bingeing on some TV show or contributing to an open source project in your spare time?

Maybe the only thing that really matters is whether we are forced to keep doing something once we get tired of it and would rather do something else.

Maybe all this study reveals is for how many hours the average worker likes doing what they are forced to do at work. That wouldn't tell us very about what work does to the brain function of someone who is exceptionally motivated and loves to keep doing what they do for 16 hours per day.

I don't necessarily mind all of that, save the sneaking around with tech when it seems a bit harsh.

We don't know which things are actually detrimental to brain function. If I were to speculate, I'm going to guess the differences lie in some combination of low-level stress and the actual effort involved.

The effort bit might explain more of the differences. Some folks have better genetics for long-distance running and can do so for much of their lives while others develop issues from overuse and/or become more prone to injuries. I'm hoping we sort some of this stuff out in the future as we get better ways to gain insight.

As bad as you think this is here, trust me Korea is worse.

I've gotten this sentiment before. Does it appear to be improving at all in Korea?

If you look at the younger generation, I doubt it. Korea is a wonderful country full of extremely bright and nice people. But they're caught in an education arms race that is legitimately terrifying. Kids are schooled with incredible tenacity from 9 to 5 and then once they are finished school they attend night classes and weekend classes. I think putting a much higher weight on fluid intelligence over crystallized intelligence in the CSAT might be useful for mitigating this dynamic. However, I'm not sure what could be done do avoid the equally terrifying working hours dynamic.

I wonder what impact Korean reunification would have. I imagine it would create a large leisure class, supported by a new North Korean cheap-labor underclass, with which would come a leisure culture which could impact the overall culture. Some bad, with some good.

I sort of think tests of crystallized intelligence, after a certain point, are basicly very inefficient marshmallow tests, tests of diligence rather than valuable abilities. I suspect relying near-exclusively on tests of fluid intelligence would work much better and would allow Korean children to avoid throwing their leisure time on a pyre, as there are extremely limited returns to studying for general intelligence tests.

As much of this is a status game, I doubt an underclass would mitigate it at all.

I think your understanding of class is off. I mean, what would an underclass really do to turn south koreans into a leisure class? The point of working crazy hard is to jostle for position with the people at or above your social position.

9 to 5 school sounds like a breeze compared to China. Kids in China are doing 7 to 7 while in middle school (with piles of homework to do during lunch break and in the evening). In high school there is no leaving campus except for once a month.

It is common for high-achieving US high schools to do similar hours too.

My alarm was set to 6:15 AM (I optimized it so I could sleep in as late as possible -- perfected the art of getting ready in 15 minutes because I was in such a zombified state of sleep deprivation every morning), got to school at 7 AM trying my best to concentrate for the next 8 hours on fast-paced AP honors coursework.

School ended at 3 PM, and that didn't mean "time to go home" -- a full plate of after school activities lasted until 7 PM (I did cross country and track so that meant running 6+ miles).

When I got home, I had 5+ hours of homework (most of the work was busywork and not helpful prep for the AP tests, either -_-) to do, and I need at least an hour of time for mental sanity to decompress and play Counter-Strike right before bedtime, often this ended up being 2 or 3 hours, perpetuating the cycle. I would have lost my mind otherwise...

Weekends were spent catching up on sleep, studying for the SATs, and finishing the huge backlog of homework that accumulated during the week, but that's when I didn't have to travel several hours by bus to all-day track meets on Saturdays.

I'm doing a startup now, and it's not NEARLY as much work as American top tier college-bound high school.

That's a lot more extracurricular activity and exercise than average Chinese students get. And forget about computer games. Many students are not allowed to use a cellphone on weekdays. Once they go off to college, however, they experience the first taste of freedom and some become addicted to computer games as attested by the abundance of internet cafes near college campuses.

Yes, exercise was a means to an end. College adcoms want well-rounded students, not narrowly-focused math drones. Applying to top colleges with good academic AND athletic credentials is very important.

I did not have a cellphone in high school. iPhone 1 was released during my senior year. A few of my classmates who were much more well-off than I was had Razr phones, LG keyboard phones, and the like -- all paid for by their parents.

But man, without computer games, I would have lost my mind.

>College adcoms want well-rounded students, not narrowly-focused math drones.

I find this incredibly misguided.

Please elaborate?

Thanks, that's a great article!

Mind you, all of this is technically optional. I went to a well-funded high school in an affluent suburb, and there were certainly students who had schedules like yours -- I personally knew quite a lot of people whose high-school lives resembled yours -- but there were also a bunch of slackers who just didn't do anything. For as many people like you I knew, I knew just as many stoners (including two guys who were sent to the alternative school multiple times a year because they were too stupid to not get caught with weed on campus). I even knew a few people who dropped out.

I followed the middle path, taking advantage of a quirk of Texas law. You see, I have less than zero interest in athletics and little to no interest in other after-school activities. I wanted to go to college, and my dream involved getting a CS degree, but I couldn't care less about getting into some prestigious private and/or out-of-state school or what have you.

This was good because I live in Texas, and Texas law requires all state universities to accept any in-state student who graduates in the top 10% of their class. So I just made sure to do well in my classes. I participated in virtually no extracurriculars (except one club that only met sporadically because I had a personal interest in it), I took exactly one AP class because I knew I'd breeze through the material (AP CS 1; I would've taken AP CS 2, but it was cancelled my senior year due to lack of enrollment), and I only took a small handful of PreAP/Honors classes because they were in subjects I knew I was good at. My lack of extracurriculars helped me to have the energy to pay attention in class, and I took easy classes (well, easy for me). Hell, I was so good at paying attention in class that I could do virtually no studying outside of class and still ace almost all of my tests. My evenings were free as a bird. As such, I made straight As (and often A+es, which counted for GPA in my high school) in almost everything with little effort. I made the top 10% with about a dozen students between me and the cutoff, and I went to a very nice state university that's known for its CS program.

I made some incredible friends in college, who I'm close to to this day, learned a lot of things that I still use in my thirties, and those four years at a state school were the best years of my life. Whatever else I regret in my life, how I went about my schooling wasn't one of them.

Yes, I should have mentioned that I went to a modestly-funded public high school in a small dying steel town outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania -- most of my classmates were the aforementioned stoners as well (they graduated to heroin -- indeed, my county has one of the highest rates for heroin abuse in the country).

For some reason, I believed that I was destined for a better life, I really loved computer programming and I wanted to live in Silicon Valley, and I worked my ass off for it. There were no handouts, and I knew I would be judged with the same yardstick as the kids from the likes of Phillips Exeter with their near-perfect SAT scores, the byproduct of personalized tutoring. The web site College Confidential was my bible. I'm one of the few that left the town, and now I live in Silicon Valley.

Still, I got thin envelopes in the mail from all but one of my reach schools. I took the opportunity I had and ran with it.

I have zero regrets as well. Turned out that playing one hour of Counter-Strike a day instead of five had a much bigger payout.

9 to 5 followed by night classes and weekend classes, which include large amounts of homework. That is their normal school has homework and their separate night/weekend school also assigns homework. It seems basicly comparable.

Is this you? If so, why aren't you seeking out more work to do, since you have so much free time?

I know this sounds snarky, but I have never seen a company that didn't have undone work. And I've rarely met colleagues who didn't appreciate a helping hand when they were busy.

It comes down to cost-benefit: on net, will doing this thing create more positive things (e.g., personal reward, recognition, compensation) than negative things (e.g., dealing with bureaucracy, being hassled, getting entangled in organizational politics)? If it's net negative, there's no reason to do it. Now, that's inherently pessimistic, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't apply to actual work environments. There's also an argument for recognizing this situation and doing something about it (i.e. quitting to do something else), although that can be easier said than done, depending on one's circumstances.

Likely: zero equity, and a negotiated wage that is less than the opportunity-cost of one's time because it had an expectation of "slack" calculated into it by the employer. Most retail jobs have these properties.

I worked and managed retail for several years. There was always more work that needed to be done. Retail stores are messy, and sales correlate positively with clean, attractive merchandising. Customers are needy, and sales correlate positively with customer service.

I didn't mean "slack" as in "free time because there isn't anything to do"; I meant "slack" as in "extra tolerance because—at a given wage—an average employee will predictably goof off X% of the time."

This is how all large chains (McDonalds, WalMart, etc.) are managed from a corporate perspective. Instead of paying X salary to ensure enough "morale" for optimal worker productivity, it is actually more cost-effective to pay workers a lower wage such that they're sub-optimally productive—but still productive—and then put systems in place to both idiot-proof and peer-quality-check each employee's output, such that the output is still guaranteed even with multiple "malfunctioning" process-nodes potentially touching it.

The epitome of this approach is seen in how an "automatic" Amazon Mechanical Turk work pipeline operates at scale: a program hands off work-items to workers, and then treats each individual work-product as being of unknown quality, handing it off to further workers to give a quality-judgement to it, cross-checking those workers' opinions in case some of them are just mashing "good", etc. None of this would be necessary if the work paid well-enough for market-forces to apply (i.e. if people would want to compete for the work.) But since it doesn't pay, people aren't interested in one-upping one-another's quality to steal the job, so you just end up with whoever decided to wander in.

See also: the economic "Losers" in the MacLeod Hierarchy.

The problem might be of lack of trust between a manager and his team. He assumes that most would shirk work given the slightest chance.

Time spent at work is easy to measure. Productivity is difficult to measure.

is certainly bad for our brains

Why? Can you elaborate on this point? What makes you so certain that doing so is bad for our brains? Bad in what way? Is the badness cumulative and irreparable? Is it temporary and reversible? Maybe it's good for our brains because it's less stressful than trying to cram 15 hours work in a 9 hour day.

What would you change? If you were a manager, would you expect people to put in only 2 hours of actual work per day, regardless of when their butt is in the seat?

This is a paper on the work that the article cited: https://www.melbourneinstitute.com/downloads/working_paper_s...

There is a critical mathematical mistake with their use of statistical analysis which basically, as an artifact, bakes in this "conclusion" into the "results".

It comes about because they manually add "Working hours-squared/100" into the factor analysis, and then, low and behold, there is a parabola correlated with the data. It's a downward facing one, because an upward facing one, or no correlation will not match as well. But the model is not reality.

There are numerous other conceptual problems with the study, like "what is work?" and a lack of real data on the nature of work beyond what is correlated with socioeconomic indicators, like University education, however, it is remarkable that even at the level of statistic analysis, the work is critically flawed.

I am also disappointed that nobody else on hacker news seems to have pointed this out.

Hopefully, this can serve as yet another example, of how to interpret and understand data the new, be it hacker news or otherwise, presents us with. Statistical data analysis is both hard, and often times misleading.

I skimmed the paper and couldn't find this "critical mistake". The nonlinear model you describe is common and appropriate to situations like this.

    y ~ x + x^2
A mistake would be

    y ~ y^2
And even then, it would be appropriate if we're modeling an autoregressive process.

    y_{t} ~ y_{t-1}

I'll try to state in this language what I think is the conceptual flaw.

The stated conclusion is "there is an optimum number of work hours, and it is less than 40."

However, their method of analysis is this:

"We fit a non-linear model that is a quadratic model cognitive ability y ~ ax + b x^2 for x work hours / week, and we found a statistical optimum around 25 hours"

The problem with this is that you're trying to find the best fit of a parabola to the data. And you have tons of samples where the work hours are very few / none (unemployed). Because there is a fairly strong correlation with unemployment and cognitive indicators, the parabola is already being "forced down" near hours worked = 0.

Now in this parabola model of estimated cognitive indicators vs work hours, either you are going to get a minima -- and it goes to infinity at working hours -> infinity (of course in real life it cannot really do this, because we only have so many hours in the week, but the statistical model will suggest it) -- or, you are going to get a maxima, which is what actually happens.

It could well be in the data that the indicators are that there is roughly flat, or even increasing response of cognitive indicators to working hours when the number of working hours is beyond a nominal value, but that the unemployed population has somewhat lower indicators.

In this case the model will automatically become a downward curving, parabola with a maxima, suggesting decline with increasing work hours -- even though this is not what the data directly suggests.

This maxima, the fact that there even is a "work hour optimum" that is a smooth, quadratic curve, is a mirage -- the model is not the data.

A remaining question is why the optimum is less than 40 hours. It is relatively easy to construct a statistical case in which it is a curve fitting artifact, despite that there is no direct data even at at the suggested optimum.

One could in principle check to see if this is the case. The data may be available.

For now, there's few graphs on page 20. It really doesn't seem to me that there is a significant distinction between the part time and full time groups -- in fact, the biggest difference is that more women who have a high reading score are not unemployed. Men who have a higher symbols score are more likely to be full-time employed instead of part-time, slightly -- but the converse is true for men with higher reading scores. The difference is not very distinct.


> Because there is a fairly strong correlation with unemployment and cognitive indicators

You're arguing that there's an endogeneity effect -- that poor cognition causes less working? That's a common problem. The authors discuss their use of an instrumental variable technique to avoid this issue.

> parabola is already being "forced down" near hours worked = 0

Not sure what you mean. Typically a model like this includes a constant to allow for a non-zero dependent variable when all the explanatory variables are zero. To do otherwise in this case would be absurd. The idea that the average non-working person has zero cognitive function...

> smooth, quadratic curve, is a mirage

Ever heard of a Taylor polynomial?

You'll learn a lot more if you ask, instead of "what could be wrong about what this person is saying", you ask "what could be right about it?"

That's exactly what I'm asking for: a clearer explanation.

I don't believe the paper's conclusion, but I don't understand your criticism of it. If you're saying the estimated curve is inappropriate, a better argument would be that they should include more terms of the work-hours Taylor expansion to get a better fit. Or perhaps there are confounding variables left out of the model.

Um, what? The model is right there on page 5 and there's nothing wrong with it. The predictors include working hours, (working hours)^2, and others. The outcome is score on a cognitive assessment.

What's your agenda in trying to discredit this study with FUD, I wonder? Hopefully this can serve as yet another example of how to ignore commenters that sound like they know what they're talking about but actually don't.

Look, I am 100% for the conclusion that we should not as a default case have people working too much! Even a 40 hour work week, for work that is statistically usual today, is in my opinion inhumane.

That philosophical belief however does not win out in the context of this particular analysis.

My agenda is to support sensible discourse on the question of how our brains adapt and how we live, using rigorous thought. Maybe I'm not seeing the problem with my reasoning but it seems pretty clear to me.

The problem is that you automatically get an upward or downward parabola, plotting cognitive scores versus working hours, if you have a non-zero coefficient in working hours^2

It's very unlikely that you'll get an upward parabola, especially given the strong anticorrelation between unemployment and cognitive scores that they use.

In science, you have a judgment call for which predictors you plug into the statistical analysis. Choosing any particular function, be it working hours^2, sin(working hours/100), or even, say, ballmerpeak(alcohol content) will effect the statistical results in factor analysis or anything else.

Since we chose only linear and quadratic functions to get coefficients for in our statistical analysis, the functions are going to be a parabola -- either up or down.

The coefficient for the squared component could easily be zero. This is called "not statistically significant". There is no guarantee for a parabolic shape.

The measure of possible data sets where, by standard statistical analysis, the coefficient for the squared component is zero, is tiny. There's no guarantee for a parabola, just a very high degree of certainty.

Your other point, that the parabola could be "not statistically significant," is true.

But given a strong degree of significant correlation between unemployment and the cognitive indicators, even if the dependence is totally flat for the cognitive indicators between 5 hours worked and 100 hours worked, you will still get a parabola by this method of statistical analysis.

Do not forget, this is model fitting.

> is zero

Sigh. No coefficient is ever exactly zero, just very close [0]. I didn't think I needed to explain that when writing, "could be zero."

> you will still get a parabola

If the squared parameter is not statistically significant, the author will likely drop it from the model. In that case, we would not see a parabolic model and the paper wouldn't exist. The authors would have moved on to a different topic, or found a different dataset.

If the coefficient is so small that it is indistinguishable from zero (not significant), then we ignore the associated variable entirely. To do otherwise would require us to discuss an infinity of possible variables as if they mattered to the model.

> correlation between unemployment and cognitive indicators

If you're arguing that the author should have dropped all observations of unemployed persons from the dataset, that's completely separate and has nothing to do with parabolas.

[0] "ever" loosely defined.

"The functions are going to be a parabola." What functions? A plot of which two variables? I have no idea what you're talking about and I'm a grad student in biostats.

I'm sorry, I am trying to explain something that is very clear in my head, and I'm pretty sure that I'm right, but I haven't had bio-stats training specifically so I do not know the language precisely. My background is in physics, computer science, and epistemology.

The functions I am referring to are estimators of cognitive indicators (like backwards digit span, say, that they use in the paper), as a function of working hours.

Take a look at page 21 for some plots. For each of the cognitive indicators, the estimator is a downwards parabola as a function of working hours. What I am saying is that this is an artifact of the analysis. The shape could be far different -- in fact it could be a bad case of curve fitting. Additionally -- why not just directly plot the data as a scatter plot or a binned average of cognitive indicators for bins between, say, 20 - 25 hours, 25 - 30 hours, etc? Then at least we could see if the parabolas are close to the data...


There's nothing wrong with the inclusion of a quadratic term in a linear model if the variable is significant, which is clearly is according to Table IV.

You can't just plot a single predictor against the sample outcome and expect the plot to be particularly revealing in multiple regression. Plus, this isn't even multiple regression; this is a two-stage least squares multiple regression. The working hour (WH) variables are instruments, not predictors. See page 6.

Instrumental variables exist specifically to deal with the case of a possible bidirectional causal association between predictor and response.

I'm afraid I don't think you are understanding my point, but apparently it is a difficult one to make.

I'm unfortunately too busy to make it clearer, so I will just leave you with a koan.

Why not include a third order term in the regression? What about an n-th order term? What assumptions do we "bake into" the results of a statistical regression as an effect of including, or not, any function on the original data?

The statistical significance of the quadratic term is actually dependent upon the presence of any more complex or higher order terms in the regression, just as the coefficients and the statistics of the linear term will depend on the presence of the second order term in the analysis.

I'm not saying you should never include a quadratic term in a regression, I'm saying we should understand what the regression is doing when it is fitting a model.

Why not include insignificant terms in the regression? Maybe because they're insignificant?

I understand what the regression is doing. The authors understand. You do not, though.

You've already admitting not to having a background in stats, yet you keep throwing around words like "significance" and "model fitting" without having the faintest clue what they mean mathematically. I'm sorry, but I can't fit several semesters of undergrad-level stats in these comment boxes.

I have still not given up hope that this conversation is useful for somebody.

Here is my redoubled effort.

Part of what gives me hope is that the CEO of a prominent data analysis company, who does have a background in statistics and data analysis, and has a PhD in computational mathematics from Stanford, said that my original comment was "amazing" and that "the complacency of selecting variables is lost on the hive mind."

And, so, while I have diminished hope that I'll be able to get through to you this time, at the moment, since things seem to have regressed to statements asserting that I don't understand the "faintest clue" of things like model fitting and significance (this is absolutely false, actually, I'm quite deeply aware of the meaning), in fact this conversation does have at least some merit, even if outside of this, surprisingly argumentative, Hacker News context.

Including a specific number of terms in a Taylor series expansion (as per the suggestion of xapata, or in any expansion, be it a Fourier expansion, a Lagrange expansion, or whatever, is a somewhat perilous choice that can distort the meaning. Any form of model fitting has this problem. But one cannot dismiss all other models that could be fit to the data as insignificant in this case!

In particular, choice of a quadratic function for fitting, using constant, linear, and quadratic terms, automatically distorts this data, because of the nature of the data, where there is a anti-correlation between unemployment and cognitive indicators.

This is demonstrated by the following example, which took me about 5 minutes to construct -- and bit more to explain and write about here.

Suppose the data show a completely flat response for IQ versus working hours, except for the unemployed population, which has a lower set of cognitive indicators.

The data and curve are linked here.


In this example, the data shows no optimum number of working hours, and IQ doesn't diminish for more hours worked. But the quadratic fit does suggest this: a peak for IQ near 25 hours of hours worked.

Obviously, this example is not the data the study worked on. The study doesn't directly share the data. But, from the graphs on page 20, the example I constructed is quite like the data. The part-time and full-time work probability density curves are practically identical to one another -- they are right on top of each other. The only really significant difference is between the working and not working populations.

Yet, the authors do not hedge their findings.

"Our findings show that there is a non-linearity in the effect of working hours on cognitive functioning. For working hours up to around 25 hours a week, an increase in working hours has a positive impact on cognitive functioning. However, when working hours exceed 25 hours per week, an increase in working hours has a negative impact on cognition."

and the study concludes "Our study highlights that too much work can have adverse effects on cognitive functioning."

In my judgment, this analysis does not demonstrate this, even though it would be convenient for me for this to be true.


Because they did two stage least squares, and instead of directly using working hours they used fitted values, there is a slight adjustment that needs to be done to the example above, in order to be relevant.

It is not entirely obvious exactly how well the anti-correlation for cognitive indicators will carry through after "working hours" are estimated by regression with the variables:

Vacancy rate, Inner regional, Outer regional, Remote, Very remote, Number of dependent, Children, Parent is still alive, Other public benefits, Australian citizen, Work experience, Ownhouse.

I mean literally the best connection there is is in "other public benefits" which is a variable with an effect measured in dozens of hours of work per week. Everything else is a far smaller effect. So, effectively, what the second stage of least squares is really doing, is doing a regression on the variables about versus cognitive indicators; and really mostly, upon whether or not they receive public benefits.

A large fraction of those people who have public benefits will have their "estimated work hours" estimated below 0, then will be reassigned to 0 for the purposes of the final regression. Hence, if there is an anti-correlation for "receiving other public benefits" (their terminology) with cognitive indicators -- and there is -- it will appear that there is a significantly lower set of cognitive indicators for the instrument WH* that they estimate.

After that, the rest of my toy example is still quite apt -- there can be no effect in IQ as a function of WH* or WH (as measured) outside of the unemployed population, even though the quadratic analysis will suggest an optimum.

"You can't just plot a single predictor against the sample outcome and expect the plot to be particularly revealing in multiple regression"

Isn't this, effectively, what they are doing when they say they have found an optimum number of "working hours" for one to work to maximize cognitive indicators?

I'm not even quibbling whether they're demonstrating causality versus correlation. The problem is that their result and the number that they found are likely artifacts of the method of the analysis, and the choice to include only linear and quadratic terms.

I should add, for the benefit of anyone that reads this in hindsight, that I actually very much endorse the question that this work seems to be asking:

How shall we live?

I do think the problem has much more to do with the nature of work, and not quite so much to do with its amount.

I'm 50yo and am still learning new shit everyday...just a month ago I bit the bullet and learned enough javasc...excuse me ECMAScript, to be pretty damn dangerous :)

Over the past weekend I learned docker and am now running containers all over the place...these aren't trivial things and the speed of which I'm picking stuff up is as fast, if not faster, then it has ever been for me.

The point is I am 10 years older then the age this study targeted, and I find it humorous that they are telling me I am AT LEAST 25 IQ points dumber because I work 50-60 hour weeks.

Plus, where do I tick the box about my lifetime of pretty hardcore drug use and its supposed effects on my IQ?

Now I do get tired...physically tired...from the efforts required to keep up but besides that, my anecdotal experience goes against this research.

> my anecdotal experience goes against this research

There are several things wrong with your argument.

Even if we ignore the fact that you aren't talking about your IQ, the fact that you learned docker or JS despite working doesn't even go against the study: you need to compare your speed of learning after working vs while not working. Knowing only how fast you can learn after working full time isn't enough to draw a conclusion after all..

Also, it's debatable how difficult it is in terms of raw intelligence to learn JS and Docker. It could be argued that using new tools is more constrained by knowledge than by intellectual ability, and this is especially the case if you've learned similar things before, like another imperative language.

    > I find it humorous that they are telling me I am
    > AT LEAST 25 IQ points dumber
They are not telling "you". Statistics != "everybody". No idea why you feel personally insulted. I heard x % of people are sociopaths (or insert something else bad here) - should I now complain "hey, I'm not a sociopath (or whatever)"?

Yep, I'm just like you. About to turn 60, been a daily hardcore drug user for most of my life, and I've been picking up new languages and technologies every day, all while working 60 hours a week.

I find it quite hurmorous indeed that there are those that would suggest that we are not intellectually capable.

Glad to know there is someone else like me out there. :)

Just registered this account to discuss. This is something I worry about, I am a 31 year old dev, only learned to code 5 years ago. I smoke around 28 grams of strong cannabis (kush and haze) a week. Between the ages of 17-25 every weekend consisted either cocaine, ecstasy, mdma, ketamine or whatever really. I currently feel as although I'm playing with as much tech as ever I can't hold as much state in my head when developing and resort to the debugger a lot more. My cannabis intake has gone up in the past year probably. You think its the bud?

Cannabis and programming only seem to mix for me when I'm using lightly ( less than a few times a week )

When I moved to Colorado my intake skyrocketed. Was up to around 7 grams a week (16-25%thc) with 90% concentrates mixed in for fun. I was able to work with 0 problems for a few months but started noticing subtle fogginess over the course of my days and like you, holding state was difficult ( along with general debugging slowness )

Naturally I figured it would be wise to slow down consumption and went on a tolerance break. Within a few days I was back to 100% and now only smoke a few times a week. Currently I notice no negative day to day issues and all mental fogginess is gone! I like to sit down after work, toke, and then code.. so happy to report my anecdotal data as positive!

This goes for other drugs too, even "normal" ones like caffeine. I had a nasty habit of drinking a ridiculous amount of coffee and noticed very similar issues as above with cannabis. And like above, cutting the caffeine down was the fix for me.

Take a break for a few weeks ( or at least cut back significantly ) and see how you feel. Smoking that much weekly is only necessary with an extreme tolerance anyway.

Good luck and hope you feel better!

I'm also 31 and have been smoking almost as long as I've been coding - since I was 15. An oz per week is pretty heavy smoking - if you can cut that down to at most a 1/4 per week and exercise every day, I think you would see a drastic improvement in your cognitive ability when programming. I've found that intense interval type exercise helps with negative side effects of smoking, especially if you do it in the morning and save the smoking for after work.

Plus, smoking after programming all day helps you shift perspective and think differently about any roadblocks you're stuck on. Best of luck.

What class of drugs? If you don't mind.

Does your anecdotal experience go against this research? Have you tried working fewer hours a week and noticed that you don't have an easier time learning things?

Go ahead and flip the framing to the other side if you feel offended, working less will give you 25 "extra" IQ points from your norm.

"These aren't trivial things..." Those are pretty trivial things, I mean JS is some people's first language. You can LEARN docker in couple days or less. Please correct me If I am wrong ?

My brain usually goes in to "prepare to shut-down" mode every day at about 3:30pm (having started work at ~9am). I tend to have slow mornings, and stay pretty busy/head-down for the last half of that time.

The funny thing is, it doesn't really matter if I was busy working on hard technical challenges all day, or just reading articles/browsing the web; my brain shuts down the same time regardless.

"The 3pm crash" is well documented and extremely common. Personally, I set up my schedule so I am not trying to do intellectual work between 3 and 4. Eat a snack, walk to the Starbucks down the street, go to the gym, take a boring meeting - anything, and then resume programming when my body is ready (usually around 4/4:30).

The Spanish have siestas.

There is nothing wrong with you - this is human nature. It's in the scientific literature, TV commercials for energy bars, and even some European cultural identities.

The Chinese also practice the afternoon nap. Lunch break at work in China is two hours: one for eating, one for sleeping. White-collar workers all get this long of a break. As for blue-collar, I don't know if factory workers do, but it certainly applies to shop owners, street vendors, and many moped/tricycle drivers.

The naps don't look particularly comfortable: http://img2.izismile.com/img/img3/20100419/640/chinese_facto...

But you know, when someone gives you a 30 minute break, you take it!

That link returns a 500 error for me.

This link will give you a good collection:


Google disagrees. Showing results for "china map factory" Even correcting it with the link to the original query doesn't really show much relevant.

Showing results for china map factory

I was very confused for a bit :)

Where do they sleep?

Many people, especially shopkeepers and associates, sleep right at work! More than once I headed down to the cellphone store to recharge my minutes, only to remember the time when I found folks sleeping at the counter. Nothing for it but to return a little later.

Another popular way to sleep is to stretch out atop the seat and handlebars of one's e-bike (electric moped). Must be more comfortable than it looks.

This sounds like it could be a diet thing. Have you tried eating different things for lunch to see if that affects your mid-afternoon mood?

I also habitually got the 3/3:30 shutdown until I played with diet and times.

Living in Southern Europe and working from home, my meal times vary but they'd be considered late for US standards (with the exception of breakfast). A late lunch (around 3PM) seems to do away with the mid-afternoon shutdown.

Also, at the start of the year, I changed from a healthy-leaning diet to one that consists almost entirely of muesli, lean meat, brown rice, fruits & veggies, eggs, trail mix, rice cakes, water, juice, and things of the like. I even switched to wine (instead of beer), whenever possible.

Actually, I find the most effective means to not fall asleep after lunch is to just not eat lunch. When and if I do, I'm intolerably tired for the afternoon.

It's your body's natural response to having been fed - conserve energy until the next hunt.

> "It's your body's natural response to having been fed - conserve energy until the next hunt."

I think it's more likely to be due to the energy it takes to break down food (meaning you have less free energy) that causes people to feel sluggish after a large meal.

It might be dependent on what was eaten. Of you eat a carb-heavy meal, and you are very insulin-responsive, then you can feel tired afterwards.

Try skipping carbs at lunch, stick with protein+fat, see if that makes a difference.

I don't personally have this problem, even with carb-heavy lunches, but thanks for the advice.

I was going to suggest the same. The "prepare-to-shutdown" brain mode could well be that more blood is flowing to the stomach (and thus less to the brain) after a heavy meal.

I'd have zero objections to a post lunch nap.

Yeah, if you're consistently crashing after lunch, you should probably have your blood sugar checked. High blood sugar will make you sleepy and brain foggy and crave a nap. The earlier you catch diabetes, the easier it is to prevent complications in the future by modifying your diet to include less sugar.

Do you have any good resources for diet things? I'm interested in this.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.


Unfortunately, I don't. I tried many different diets, but they either didn't work, or weren't sustainable. I settled on two rules, lost 50+ lbs, and have been able to sustain it for a few years now. My rules are (1) don't overeat, and (2) don't eat processed foods.

It took a few months before I figured out what my portions were, since I don't feel full until about 15-20 minutes after I am. By the time I knew how much I needed to eat in one sitting, I'd become used to eating that amount, so it was a breeze.

I do eat whatever I want, with the exception of processed foods. If I can't make it at home with whole ingredients, I'll likely not eat it. I do cheat every so often, but not much, and not a large amount (I love a box of Raisinettes during a movie.)

As for not being able to think straight after lunch, I used to get that way when I'd eat too much. I used to love feeling full, but it would definitely affect brain function. Now, I get ill when I overeat. I also try to eat a high protein, high fiber breakfast, because it seems to get me further through the day than anything else (I eat a small late lunch).

How did you figure out your personal portion sizes? Just approximation (ex: felt too full after 3 eggs, but just right after 2)?

I read plenty of literature on estimating the dietary recommended portion sizes in food, but nothing on how much food I personally should eat in a sitting.

Funny you should use eggs as an example. I do feel too full after 3 eggs, but just right after 2. Unless I'm eating just eggs, in which case 3 is just right. Or unless I'm making an omelette, which is almost impossible with just two eggs. In that case, my dog gets a good part of one of those eggs.

As I say, it did take a few months. I also needed to eat a little slower - I was a fast eater of big meals. Mostly just experimentation and willpower - you have to get used to waiting to feel full. I go by the two fist rule: your stomach's about as big as your two fists put together.

My family also likes to go out to eat a lot. I ask for a box as soon as the food comes, and put half of the food in it. I used to finish the other half, but now I'll usually end up adding a bit to the to-go, and making two meals out of that later. If I'm by myself, I usually just order an appetizer (I do find myself eating more of just one type of dish per meal). If I go with my family, I'm ordering a meal, because, hey, free food!

I used to get the afternoon doldrums. This stopped when I cleaned up my diet (little in the way of refined carbs, mostly no sugar, higher protein, more vegetables) and began regular exercise (crossfit). Now, I may get an afternoon slowdown once every few months (usually from not enough sleep).

I heard a nutritionist on NPR say a little more protein at breakfast will cure the 3-5pm brain fog. It's worked for me. I also stopped eating sugar I think that's helped too.

3:30 is siesta time.

This is why companies need to be "results driven" vs "face-time driven".

"What did you deliver this week? This month? This quarter?", should be the only relevant question in the workplace, managers included.

> "What did you deliver this week? This month? This quarter?", should be the only relevant question in the workplace, managers included.

Unfortunately, there's another camp that (with credible arguments) claims that task-estimates are almost always meaningless. If you buy into that camp, and if someone under-delivers, it doesn't tell you anything about whether or not they are performing poorly. They could simply be the victim of an overly optimistic task-estimate. As a manager, what are you going to do then?

This is pretty much the double-edged-sword in the NoEstimates movement. Either you judge people purely on the basis of results, and end up punishing people who are victims of poor task estimates. Or you don't judge people at all, and watch as people take advantage of the situation to slack off as much as they want. Or you judge them on the basis of hours-spent-at-work, which will then induce the same complaints we see in this thread.

>>Unfortunately, there's another camp that (with credible arguments) claims that task-estimates are almost always meaningless.

This is largely because people cook up all kind of bull-crap work just to keep busy and have it look like the equivalent of 'moon-landing' just happened.

Over years I have seen this phenomenon play out in every major company. The absolute worst I have seen is a whole team of 10-20 members dedicated to build that would be the equivalent of cron + ftp, implemented in super verbose java written and rewritten to make class hierarchies as complicated as possible to make it look big, and then have it projected as the biggest project ever. The team went to bag a lot of bonuses and promotions. Stuff like this is why goal based evaluation don't work.

Also look at: http://strikemag.org/bullshit-jobs/

Also look at: http://strikemag.org/bullshit-jobs .

The entirety of his argument has one data point: he has a friend who is a lawyer who thinks his job is useless for society.

What if you judge a team based on the revenue it brought in vs the cost of the employees in the team? Since profit is the real measure of success, it makes sense to use that as the metric. Measuring individual contributions is problematic, no matter the system you use. Measuring based on the entire team is much easier.

You would notice that the IT and security teams brought in zero revenue and fire them all.

I wonder if it would be more economically efficient for security teams to turn into insurance companies. So companies selling books over the internet would fire their security teams and instead buy a insurance policy against any intrusions, have the security company scour their systems for vulnerabilities during underwriting, and then pay a monthly fee and upkeep while the security company is held liable for any security intrusions.

The book company could then buy a standard product as a simple cost, while the security company attaches direct revenue to effective security.

I guess the IT/security company would need to run your infrastructure to be able to set up monitoring and such?

Ha! In fact all you would need is a sales team!

Then next quarter you fire them too!

It's difficult to judge teams based on revenue. A software company makes $100million. Is it the developers? the sales team, the marketing team or QA team that get's the credit? do you split it evenly? do you split it by the number of hours worked? If you have a company, there is really only one team, all of the company, all the other teams are usually sub teams that are interdependent on each other.

> What if you judge a team based on the revenue it brought in vs the cost of the employees in the team?

That can still be hard to accurately measure. You can measure, of course, how much revenue was attributed to sales of the product developed by the team, but how much of that is attributable to the team's work and how much is attributable to company-wide marketing and how much is due to company image developed by public experience with products developed by other teams is...not always readily obvious. (And, of course, then you have teams that aren't devoted to particular products or which provide company-wide services supporting product teams, but not directly generating revenue -- unless, of course, you organize your company so that accounting, HR, marketing, etc., are all broken up and product-team specific.)

Of course, if you measure by the entire company a lot of that uncertainty gets washed out.

So how do you judge the revenue brought in by internal facing teams? IT teams? QA? Basically, anything that isn't a revenue center, or is a cost center?

Some projects aren't directly profitable, but are important and must be done. Infosec for example. Using this metric, important jobs may not get done.

That won't work for all jobs - I work in the actuarial department for a (very) large insurance company. We can't directly affect profit. You could argue for whether or not our projections are correct, but they can be affected by many things out of our control.

I'm guessing that's true for a lot of areas in a large company. What about the department that takes care of buildings or HR for example?

Let me resolve the confusion with a simple question: when your company is contracted by another company, do they also require you to write down the amount of hours you and your colleagues worked?

A non-trivial part of my job is ansering questions that co-workers run into while trying to do their jobs.

This would become far less efficient if we didn't all keep mostly the same hours.

Would it? With email, Slack, phones and all? It's pretty easy to get an answer, often with more detail, links, code examples, asynchronously.

Face-to-face time is invaluable to me, but almost exclusively for brainstorming/working through difficult problems. But this can be a small minority of the week, and can happen opportunistically (when someone is available).

Good thing you don't work in a globally distributed company, nothing could get done.

Maybe you should look into technologies like email that allows people to send messages that can be responded to when the person has the time.

Adding a 12-hour round-trip to any question doesn't seem like a good alternative.

Isn't it a given that very few companies actually are hiring the top 0.01%? Unless you really need the absolute world best, you're probably going to do fine hiring local people who can work together closely.

I've found that adding {floor} round-trip to any questions someone could have figured out by reading the first result on a search to be excellent for the productivity of all involved.

Ok but that still leaves all the questions that can't be answered with the first result of a search.

Absolutely, I'm not saying that the best use of my time for my clients isn't asking me questions... sometimes. There's a set of stuff that I can answer in 2 minutes that might take someone an hour poring through code to figure out.

Working on the butt side of a globally distributed company, you realize how much more can get done when you actually visit the mother ship.

This ignores the concept of a blocking issue.

I (in North America) had to interact with a team member in Australia for a short project, and if either of us needed the other for something, we effectively had to find other work to do while waiting for the other to actually be awake and/or at their desk.

People I work with have trouble understanding my emails, and I have trouble understanding their emails. Together we make Linus look like a demi-god.

Communications tech is getting pretty good these days, so you can often be available to answer questions (during regular hours) without being at your desk.

I always wonder what percentage of corporate America's time is spent looking busy or alt-tabbing between a spreadsheet and solitaire when the boss walks by. If you could quantify it I bet the amount of waste is staggering.

Protip: plain text Project Gutenberg books in quarter-screen Tmux panes (under `less`, or your preferred command line text reading tool) looks almost like real work from all but the closest inspection. Less of a waste of time that Facebook/HN/Solitaire/whatever.

Fortunately I've only ever worked one place where that was super-useful, and only briefly. Got three novels read while also completing my work and doing a bunch of other work that I probably didn't need to, in ~2 months' time.

Excellent idea. Time to catch up on my backlog of old phrack and 2600 articles.

Except employers can't capture the value of eliminating that waste, because people who can actually do 40 hours of head-down intellectual work in a 40-hour workday are unicorns.

It's employees who get screwed by this - if their managers are too concerned about waste, they can't do anything like read a book or go for a walk, so they're on Facebook and Reddit, which are much less effective as breaks from focused work.

The "10X" developer might just be a reasonably competent guy who can focus for 8 hours straight.

That doesn't matter. It will just lead to an increase in workload until you don't manage to finish all your tasks.

Yeah, I don't get the "results-based workplace so you can go home a lot and stuff LOL who needs a vacation policy!" because businesses that manage to pack in more results will outcompete those who can't, until the effect is at least as bad as a traditional 9-5 (haha, right, 8-6) with a vacation policy. It's at best a very vulnerable form of rents destined to be competed out of existence (if it's actually more efficient that more traditional styles of working), assuming it's not simply fiction to begin with.

I've read your response a few times and still am unclear as to what you're saying.

If results-based work actually gains employees any extra free time, companies that find a way to fit more work into that time (say, by assigning more tasks) will outcompete those that do not. Goodbye, glorious results-based-work free time.

Either that or results-based work doesn't actually help us get things done faster than traditional work (_i.e._ it's snake oil) and at best it'll limp along providing little benefit to anyone but the people selling books about it.

So either it will fail/stagnate because it doesn't improve productivity, or it will become the new norm and we'll just have enough results expected of us that the effect on workers is at best indistinguishable from traditional work (businesses that fail to fill up the free time with more work will, generally, lose to those that do)

> If results-based work actually gains employees any extra free time, companies that find a way to fit more work into that time (say, by assigning more tasks) will outcompete those that do not. Goodbye, glorious results-based-work free time.

That hasnt been my experience. My employer doesnt care how or when throughout the week I get something done. Just once a week I state what I accomplished and what I am working on now. We still have deadlines, just no constant helicoptering. Its obvious when a project seems behind and I need to allocate extra hours to accomplish it.

It does result in plenty of flexibility and free time.

Constant checkin's, helicoptering, and meetings are nothing but an impediment to productivity IMO. If your company needs that as part of their workflow they prob need to reassess their hiring process (not hiring A players) and communication processes.

If this were entirely true, businesses wouldn't be open from 9am-5pm but would have three 8-hour shifts throughout the day and run 24/7 and simply outcompete companies that are only open 9-5. The "best" companies would have even longer shifts and more complex schedules, with fewer employees.

9-5 isn't the 'optimal'. It's simply what is 'most common' for a diurnal society. Nobody is driving around town looking to get a hair cut at 3am and staring at an IDE from 1pm-5pm trying to solve a bug isn't making you any more efficient than thinking about the problem while cooking an early dinner.

Humans do suffer fatigue - both mental and physical - and proper lengths of rest helps both kinds.

I posit that happier employees are more likely to trend their work/life balance in favor of work if they enjoy their work and enjoy their company. Unhappy employees will skirt by on the bare minimum required knowing that hiring/training a new employee isn't worth the cost of firing them.

Sure, there are lots of reasons beyond Homo Economicus thinking for why we work the way we do. Laws, cultural expectations, and so on. I just don't see results-based work displacing the current norms broadly enough to make a difference, and if it does in fact result in better productivity I expect that to be eaten by competition/profit rather than going to workers as free time, in the long (medium, even) run, absent some pretty massive shifts in culture, especially with international competition in the mix.

I believe Robin Hanson's "Age of Em" takes this to its logical conclusion if we consider economics above everything else.


I kinda think it is with an over-the-top deliverable being physical presence. Being here is only the baseline. Executing on strategy is what keeps the paychecks rolling in.

Absolutely. How can a society flourish when people are spending all their time for someone else? Full time work leaves little time for your health, family, friends, pets, and so on.

Actually, I neither work "for someone else" nor do I spend time with family, friends, etc for someone else either... not even for them. I do all of that for me. That my employers benefit, that family, friends, etc, benefit is besides the point from my perspective. It's not zero sum, after all.

But "family, friends, pets" are in the category of "someone else", right?

Also by working for someone else, you make money, which you use for your health, family, etc.

So either way, I don't get the point.

> But "family, friends, pets" are in the category of "someone else", right?

someone else == no emotional ties

You are going on the assumption that money earned by time not spent with loved ones is equivalent to the time that could've been spent with them.

"Well then get a better job that is worth it"

Not possible in a lot of instances (location, qualifications, balance of power between employed and employers).

And money can't replace an afternoon in the park with your kids riding bikes (ok, hunting pokemon in this day and age, but the point still stands)

Not sure if your being pedantic but your relationship with your 'company' and your friends/family is certainly not the same thing.

Most of us don't work for our pets.

(Unless they're cats.)

Maybe the whole idea of working for someone is a strange one. Would people still work towards doing cool stuff if they were free to make/break associations on a project basis?

There might not be the cycle of hyperconsumption driven by superficial novelty we have now. But would it be replaced by something more or less interesting?

free to make/break associations on a project basis

Isn't that called freelancing?

Could it be that there is some selection bias in this study? I don't mean to say the conclusions are wrong per se, but I would think that people working very few hours (unemployed?) or too many hours (factory workers?) are typically less educated than those in the middle, which could explain the IQ disparity.

Over the last few decades longer hours have become associated with higher earnings and higher educational backgrounds http://www.nber.org/digest/jul06/w11895.html (old data but a good start)

I don't think factory workers are more likely to work 40 hours weeks than white collar workers.

If you're allowed to, you go after every minute of that sweet, sweet, overtime. Time and a half (or double time, if you work holidays) is a beautiful thing.

That's over 40 vs white collar. This study was just comparing people who worked 40 vs 25.

There's a lot more studies showing that working 60 vs 40 is bad for you cognition, but this one is unique in showing the same effects at a much loader working load.

To counter-act the click-bait title, here's the basic gist of the article, summed up by Carol Black, one of the people interviewed on the subject:

“The most important thing about work is that it should be ‘good work’. If it is good, it does not matter whether full-or part-time.”

That's not in any way "the gist of the article", it's a comment made by a random person interviewed, and it's her opinion.

The main subject of the article is the extensive scientific study performed by scientists at the University of Melbourne, which showed that working more than 25 hours a week decreases IQ scores in people over 40.

So what is defined as good work? That reminds me of managers who say they only want the best. The best varies greatly from role to role and company to company.

This is why I work from home. I can work in sprints and take breaks to make food, exercise, run errands and play video games. You will have to drag me back to an office 9-5 at gunpoint.

What is the easiest way to transition to 100% work from home?

I had to transition to consulting which meant my productivity was now measured by billable hours and project deadlines vs "butt in chair". It took me over a year to find this type of job. Since then I moved into pre-sales which gives me even more flexibility.

Full-time work in most professions is just the appearance of full-time work. It actually sets up a culture of dependency, much like welfare, except with people selling their days for money. Many of them don't dare build value for themselves because they are afraid of losing a steady paycheck, getting sued etc.

Something similar has been measured in the game industry where Gamasutra has compared working hours crunching vs game review scores.

Here is the link http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/PaulTozour/20150113/233922/Th...


As if this industry needed any more excuses for it's blatant ageism.

I worked three years full time and now on a startup. I've come to realize that most of the performance improvement for me with the latter is attributable to a difference in sleep duration and quality. I'm someone who needs variability (+/- 2-3 hrs) in when I go to sleep and little to none in total duration. This is especially important when you're exercising consistently (and doubly so for HIIT).

Work life normally doesn't account for sleep, but I feel like it may very well be all the reason for the problems we see. It's no secret that most Americans are experiencing chronic sleep deprivation. And that's linked to a host of other issues like obesity, learning impairment, low energy/productivity, increased stress, etc. In other words, it has a cascading effect on everything else. Most people need around 8 hours per night to function normally and get only around 6.

Kind of off-topic, but what has your experience with HIIT and sleep been? I am just starting, and being somewhat obsessive about sleep would be interested to hear your experience.

If you're obsessive about sleep, I think you'll be fine :) My mistake was doing 3 20 min sessions of pretty intense HIIT a week and then not getting nearly enough sleep (averaged maybe 6 hrs). I felt chronic fatigue at work - it feels like a heavy wave of exhaustion very different from typical feelings of tiredness. You'll notice your work performance degrade correspondingly. Under normal circumstances you might be able to get away with bad sleep for a handful of days or even a few weeks. Not so with HIIT. You have to have an athlete's level of attention to your recovery.

All that said, HIIT is the most effective kind of exercise I've encountered and I recommend it wholeheartedly!

Thanks for the reply. I've been easing my way in with just 30sec on, 30 sec off for 5 minutes a day. I did two sets on day, and had to get up early the next day and was wiped out.

Good to hear your experience!

Nothing is more exhausting than tryimg to look busy when there is nothing to do.

As a freelancer i got some contracts through headhunters that were like that.

Looking back now, i should have quit and found something else.

Work is too ambiguous and complex of a concept to directly state that 25 hours a week is optimum over a certain age.

It seems like this article is partially premised on research done on assembly line workers, who are, as far as I'm aware, actually working and doing physical labor for most of the time they're at work. I wonder how well this applies to mental labor? Beyond that, as some people have already commented, white-collar jobs tend to involve a lot of downtime.

Left to my own devices I'm pretty sure I'd work a variable number of hours a week, going as high as 80, and probably averaging in the neighborhood of 60.

The tricky part for me is that breaking 25ish actually-productive hours a week isn't compatible with a steady 40ish hour a week job where I'm doing mostly the same thing every week.

Ideally I'd spend 40hrs studying math one week, 80hrs developing a game next week, 30hrs landscaping/gardening + 30hrs building furniture the next, 50 hours writing fiction the next, et c. It's doing more-or-less the same work every week, whether I'm in the mood for it or not, that places such a low upper bound on my total productivity.

Same here, left to my own devices, I would probably work around 120 hours a week.

Why do you think it's premised on assembly line workers. I don't see that anywhere. I think you might be mistaken.

I talked to my boss and told him I want work only 90% for the same salary because I would still have the same productivity. He agreed! Some times you simply have to ask

of course it is, if you hate it but if you only watch tv outside of work, i suggest not quitting

It would be interesting to see a study controlling for the "sandwich years". My suspicion is that the sandwich years on top of 40+ hour/week employment causes a lot of cognitive degradation. But, 40+ hour/week employment without the sandwich years would see significantly less, if any, degradation.

What are sandwich years?

From the article: "McKenzie’s team is now looking into the driving factors behind their research such as the “sandwich years” when many adults have at least one person to look after, a child or an elderly parent, on top of working full-time."

This terminology stuck out because I'm smack in the middle of it right now. It's a regular conversation piece when my wife and I get together with other parents.

This article makes no attempt to distinguish correlation from causation.

Yes. Same with school.

Agreed especially the same with university on par in the last years. That really catches up to you

legalized ageism anyone?


What's being made legal here that was previously illegal?

It's not new. But it is legal.

The idea that people's brains tend to function differently as they age?

The idea that workplaces demand employees to work in ways that discriminate against older people, instead of focusing on increasing the productivity (and health) of all the workers.

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