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[flagged] An entrepreneur says 32-hour weeks ‘killed work ethic’ at his startup (businessinsider.com)
66 points by FrankyHollywood 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 61 comments

I always find it funny when there are so many articles about how CEOs etc. work like 80+ hours a week.

It's very different sitting in meetings and organising the activities of other for 80+ hours a week than it is writing bug-free (or at least relatively free) production grade code.

Doing the latter for 80 hours is more likely to result in errors and mistakes that will just cost more money and time to fix than has been saved.

I suspect the engineers at his startup still only do 32 hours of actual focused work.

The CEOs I know spend much of their time socializing /networking either through social media or on the phone. To them, having a fancy dinner with a prospective partner is classified as working. No wonder some people claim they "work" >80hours/week.

To be fair, I would consider spending time with people you wouldn't spend time with unless you're paid to so, as work.

Sure, you can claim it's not really work in the narrow definition of work, but if you go down that path, you will end up at "it's only really work if it's physical work".

I also don't have a problem with claims that having fancy dinners with partners constitutes work.

However, it's disingenuous to compare them with plowing a field, laying bricks, welding steel bars, driving a bus, serving meals or even fixing software bugs.

Disinegenuous in what regard?

What may seem like "eating and drinking" for sales and biz dev folks is a game requiring thinking on your feet, subtle negotiation, reading social cues, and constant strategy changes.

You are completely right. I am a Software Engineer that had to play Head of Engineering at a 100 person start-up. I had the chance to go to Money2020 in Las Vegas along with my CEO, assisting to several lunch meetings and "receptions" . As well as travelling around the USA to raise VC money.

That shit is difficult, tyring and definitely requires certain skills to do it right. I definitely would put it up there with developing complex Software architectures.

I think his point is that you train all your life for all of that and it's closer to normal activities. Plowing and other physical exertions or programming and other very demanding intellectual activities are waaay off from what the human body is meant to do 80 hours per week, long term.

I deeply disagree and I'd wager anyone who has done any sort of sales or biz dev does too.

Trying to influence a potential client to close a multi-million dollar software contract is anything but close to 'normal' activities. It's very demanding intellectually and emotionally.

I really encourage you to learn more about what sales folks actually do when having dinner with a big prospective client. They aren't just eating.

The CEO of WeWork claims to work almost 20 hours a day in this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5tSINazw78). Its impossible to do unless you are spending your time doing light work. Any intensive work that requires brain power will burn you out after 10+ hours. And to do it consistently day in and day out is impossible. I work 7 days a week averaging 10+ hours a day. I can barely hit 18 hours doing straight intensive work, and my day after suffers.

If a potential candidate tried to tell me that they had no problem and even enjoyed working 20 hours a day, I wouldn't hire them because they are demonstrating that they are clearly incapable of basic organizational skills.

Maybe the candidate just trying to show their passion and they just not completely trusted you, so they're not sure about the answer.

Or the candidate may have just failed another interview hours ago because he said he enjoyed working 8 or 12 hours a day, and lose the faith of humanity all together.

You'll never know why they've generated that answer if you don't ask a follow up question.

70+ hours a week is a lot. Any chance at all of carving out half a day even for sitting in a cafe and letting your mind wander?

Are those CEOs in charge of companies that actually ship product?

I've seen hundreds of wantrepreneurs who call networking "work" and yet haven't shipped anything, haven't sold anything, and are just wasting everyone's time.

> Are those CEOs in charge of companies that actually ship product?

Yes, all of them.

I know them because I either worked for them or worked with their companies.

Was employee number one and prelaunch was convinced my CEO would take any meeting he could just to make work for himself so he could complain about how hard he worked.

Things got a lot better post launch when he had more actual work to do, but I think his work weeks probably consolidated to something close to 50 hours.

Don't want to be too hard on him, since he was very good at his primary role, namely pitching the company to the investors.

> I suspect the engineers at his startup still only do 32 hours of actual focused work.

I would be surprised if they were able to do even 32 hours of actual engineer work.

My rule of thumb has always been an average of six hours a day, five days a week. You can generally get developers to write code sustainably for 30 hours a week as long as the number and length of working days are limited.

They can still be productive past that with tasks other than writing code, and you can push them past that temporarily to hit a deadline, but if you schedule in more than that on a regular basis, things will start to decline in all kinds of ways – morale, retention, quality, tech debt, documentation, etc.

Periodic meaningful time off is also essential – not just from a human perspective but also an operational point of view. It's better to discover single points of failure when you can plan for it rather than unexpectedly. There's an awful lot of organisations I've seen that don't realise what will happen when their lead dev quits / gets sick / gets hit by a bus. I've seen a few people say "vacation is chaos monkey for people" and it really is (anybody know the original source of that quote, by the way?).

Sounds like the article is here just to tell "Look guys, I work 65 hours a week and I don't complain, you should do the same"

FWIW, sitting in meetings and organizing the activities of others for 80+ hours per week is every bit as mentally demanding as writing mostly bug-free production grade code. After a normal day, your ability to focus and fully comprehend situations as they develop rapidly drops, resulting in lower quality decision making.

Heck, make that after half a day of work. Try doing two 1h back to back meetings in the morning and another two in the afternoon, every day, for weeks in a row, with you as one of the key decision makers in each and every single one of those meetings. It's fulfilling but utterly draining.

It is probably complaint bragging. "I'm so needed I'm constantly busy."

The title sounds like it killed the work ethic of his employees, but a quote from the interview makes it rather sound like it killed his work ethic:

> It created this lack of work ethic in me that was fundamentally detrimental to the business and to our mission […]

I'd really like to know what he means by "lack of work ethic" and why he thinks a 32 hour week contributed to that.

Exactly, I'm also not sure what's the problem. CEO had problem with 'work ethic' (and I'd like to see explanation what that means) and brought back five-days-a-week working scheme for all his employees? Or am I getting it wrong?

Surely the level of “work ethic” is something you have and it doesn’t change based on the number of hours you spend exercising that. Say for instance he had an ethic score of 95% - whatever that is - wouldn’t he apply that same drive for 35 hours and simply get more done?

I think the title needs to be less click-baity.

As a species, we have been moving towards "less hours, more work done" for centuries. Just a few hundred years ago, most of humanity worked every waking hour creating food for themselves in order to not die of starvation.

The logical end point of this progress is 0 hours work per year and we still get everything we want. We're not quite there yet, but we're already much closer to that point than "work all the time to survive".

We should do something about resource distribution, though. I'm not saying that we would be there already if the 1% didn't steal everything, but we'd certainly be closer. Not communism or anything close to that, though, we already know that crap has no chance of working. But just something not quite so unbalanced.

How about: we have achieved the right work-life balance now with ~40 hours a week as a species, a balance that allows us to be most creative. We don't work to survive anymore (with the universal basic income on the horizon), we work to show off our creativity. Take artists as an example, they don't reduce their work load just because they can. I'm not even sure who spends more time at work: a startup engineer or a [successful] musician.

So no, we'll always need room for creativity and show-off, whatever it takes, be it 40, 80, or 30 hours per week on average throughout a year. And no, it's not going to converge to 0 because it would mean pretty much the end of the evolutionary path for our species.

You're making it sound as though people are only allowed to be creative during work hours.

I'm working 70% (28 hours a week) by choice because it leaves me ample room to be creative outside of work hours, on my own projects, outside of the logic of profit maximization.

> Not communism or anything close to that, though, we already know that crap has no chance of working.

Communism was never tried. The experiments never got over the socialism phase. I bet that we going to end up with communism down the line somewhere when we overcome resource scarcity. See Star Trek for example. Currently socialism did not work at all tough.

>Communism was never tried.

I've heard people say that capitalism has never been tried, either.

AFAIK the closest we got to full blown capitalism was Chile under Pinochet. The "Chicago boys" implemented policy that came close to a totally free market. The results were that the upper class gained wealth at a higher rate than anywhere else. The poor people died of starvation.

Indeed. What would you call the closest full blown communist experiment? Soviet Union? Venezuela? North Korea? Vietnam?

Really hard to answer. I'd say the Soviet Union because they had the political infrastructure for localized government by the workers (Soviets). They never gave them any real power tough and kept it centralized.

“It created this lack of work ethic in me that was fundamentally detrimental to the business and to our mission”.

He as CEO took the 32 hour week and decided that it was bad for the run and mill.

Just because that particular CEO couldn't manage the 4day approach does not reflect badly on the approach - it reflects badly on him. Other can make it work, he can't. It doesn't mean that the approach is flawed.

Maybe we should just stop focusing on how many hours we work, and concentrate on what we want to do and on whether we've achieved it. I feel that not focusing on the hours just works better.

One day I feel tired, and I'm not advancing? I go home. The next day I feel energized, and I want to keep working? I can work 12 hours straight.

No limits, nobody tells me what I can or I cannot do, and when I should do it.

Of course, we may need a bit of tracking hours in order to understand what we're doing and how we're spending our time, but we can use a more coarse granularity (like "half days").

Engineers agree with your sentiment. People managers, I'm not so sure they've come to the same conclusion.

I've realized that different people work differently. I'm a "rhythm" worker. I work best when I have minimum breaks. The longer break I have between work days, the longer it takes me to become productive.

A three day weekend would mean I would spend Monday just ramping up into productive mode. I wouldn't reach proper productivity until Tuesday.

So really, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Perhaps giving workers the freedom to design their own work habits would work best

This. I am more of a "work really intensly for X days until I'm exhausted and never want to see a computer again, then rest for a couple of days while I regain my productivness" person. Also, I've found that if I get up in the morning and do something else other than work before lunch, only to start working in the afternoon, is where I'm at my best in terms of being productive. It's strange that we still operate by these industrialistic workhours, when people clearly are performing at their best at different hours.

I gotta try that. I wake up in the morning at 6 to get a few productive hours in. But when I get to work, I usually just end up wasting time on social media and HN. I don't regain productivity until after lunch.

I always like spreading my >30 hours over the whole seven days. Gives me days where no one could interrupt because they are having their weekends while I spend Sat/Sun morning coding.

Well one more reason not to work for a startup. At least big corps offer a better pay.

I think solving hard problems requires working hard. There are processes that happen while you sleep and dream that I don't know the explanation for, which really help you progress on an extremely difficult problem. In my experience those processes happen only when you're very focused on your problem, it occupies your thought 80% of your waking hours and it's the last thing on your mind before going to sleep.

I remember I saw a video on it from a more credible source than I, but I can't find it.

I can see how advertising a 32-hour work weeks attracts a class of people who view work as something that supports their other interests, whereas a 40-hour work week attracts more traditional workers who derive a large part of identity from their work. It might be in your personal best interest to be in the former group. But if the mentality that work comes second defines the company's culture, that company is not going to win.

I think you will find that more people consider work as something that supports the rest of their lifestyle than will publicly admit it.

Right, and this is why all big corporations fail? /s

Work is less than relevant, what matters is that your actual customer is happy and you're finding new leads. That you can be flexible is typically a part of it. That you never sacrifice your customer's satisfaction for your convenience.

Being focused may or may not be a component.

(BigCo have a problem that their actual customers are often the shareholders.)

What you're describing sounds exactly like a motivated worker. The OP and my comment is about incurring a selection mechanism for unmotivated workers.

This sounds like he'd spent time low-balling on salaries until he'd collected a cadre of people only barely interested in their work. It doesn't take much to make those people completely disinterested in doing more than marking time.

If you're hiring people who are engaged and genuinely interested in what they're doing and giving them a reasonable workload(!), they're likely to just treat that day as a day they can work from home with the option to not do work if life suddenly has plans for them.

XKCD-style admins, for instance, are likely to just spend that day spitballing ways to reduce downtime (which make the other 32 hours less annoying) and hardening infrastructure without having to worry about producing results. Planning is everything for that sort of work. My occasional work-from-home days were frequently days when I'd get a positively lurid number of things done just because of fewer interruptions.

I found it very interesting, we only hear about the successes of working less, and self steering teams. Ryan explains why this both didn't work for his company, and made company results drop.

This is the full interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJcTdA55aWA

You have to check what you can do.

I can't write or program longer than 2h a day.

But you have to allow you to see other things as work too.

Learning about work related topics (business, tech, design, news, etc)

Answering mails and talking to other people in general.

I think the problem is not that people want to work less, it's that they want flexibility and not wasing away in offices, when they aren't abel to work anymore.

"not wasting away in offices" - Yep.

Every day I come into an office feels like a waste compared to a day I work from home.

A waste of my life to be more specific.

Requiring tech workers to be physically located next to each other during the hours of 9 AM to 5 PM, five days a week for years is archaic and a slap in the face of what we've done as an industry.

I looked up the company on Crunchbase and they're in the 100-250 range. I think having a lax work policy is something that doesn't scale. Having gone through growth at company where it grew from ~100 to ~300, work starts getting less personal at around 150+ (personal opinion backed by zero facts). When work becomes less personal, I think it's easier to become complacent. You do the 9-5 -- do your job and go home. If the company policy says you can take Fridays off, hell why not take it off? I don't think there's a way to keep up work output with an overly lax work policy.

This article brought to you by the upvotes of 25 nervous founders afraid of their workers demanding 4 day work weeks.

Per the article: the CEO of a small company made an organizational change, gave up a year later, and then says the change is unviable generally. Meanwhile, in paragraph 10, one other company tried the same change and it worked great.

TLDR; nothing. This article has essentially zero information.

>This article has essentially zero information.

Welcome to Business Insider

For me, the real take away is there is no real rule that x hours working is better than y hours. It really depends on your culture, industry, environment and hundreds of other factors.

As person who started doing 32 hour week I must agree that this article completely useless.

Thanks, thats pretty much what I expected.

Worth noting that we are all not the same, and not the same in different way at different times in our lives.

I have lots of jobs that I cannot wait to get work for, but, them, wife, kids, commute...

Optimising for intrinsic motivation is a moving target.

IMO, get 6 hours of work and you should be fine. I mean work, not staying there for 80 hours a week

Wow, it's almost as if workers will have to fight for better work-life balance themselves rather than relying on the mercy of their benevolent broscience-inspired bosses

Was curious how that experiment was going to turn out, been following it for a few years. Not unexpected result, although I was going to give it more of a 60/40 in my mind.

32 isn’t even that low, a five day 9-5 with an hour lunch break is 35.

One person’s “lack of work ethic” is another’s “having a life”. Just let it go, everything will be fine. Consider this your secret weapon for talent retention. Nobody actually does even 32 hours of real, actual software engineering work in a week on a routine basis.

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