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Bring back the 40-hour work week (2012) (salon.com)
73 points by BossingAround 51 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 66 comments

Yeah I work roughly 45-50 hours in my financial job in London. And I'm still asked to be 'on call' at weekends. In fact some people I work with are proud to tell me they worked the whole weekend for some reason. The whole thing is crazy to be honest.

> And I'm still asked to be 'on call' at weekends.

Do you say "no"?

> people I work with are proud to tell me they worked the whole weekend for some reason

How do you look upon these people?

That's finance for you. All about image.

Better yet, bring the US a 4 day work week and pay for 5.

It works well for New Zealand - https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/19/new-zealand-experiment-finds... && https://www.4dayweek.co.nz/

Unpopular opinion: I really really don't want 4 day work week. I think working 5 days is comfortable and not exhausting. If we want to reduce work hours, and we really should, we should shorten work days. Why not work 9 to 3 five days a week?

This is well researched, but unless I missed something it doesn't answer the basic question: just how many people work over 40 hours? It just kind of assumes that "this is what happens". But how often?

I worked for 3 years at a FAANG and only worked more than those 40 hours a week occasionally, perhaps something in the order of 10% of worked weeks. Even then it'd be 50 hours a week, tops.

I think the data is really hard to gather. I work remotely for a startup and my hours vary drastically week to week.

Is checking email working? Answering a Slack message? Taking a phone call? Those things don’t feel like work to me, but I don’t think everyone feels that way.

If “being available” is working then I’d say I work close to 17 hours per day. If we’re talking hands on keyboard development, management etc, it’s closer to 8.

Yes it should be considered work. Anything you do towards your company should be accounted as work.

I also think commuting within reason should be accounted as work. Lets say 30 mins to go to work and 30 minutes to get back from work. That never happens obviously but in an ideal world it should be happening. I see some airplane crews e.g working for Ryanair 3 and a half hour flight, then go back another 3 and half hour, count an hour in between the flight for the change, and then they have to be redirected to where they live that can be another 3 and a half hour flight but its only in 5 hours from the time they get off. Its not accounted as work for them... but imagine they wouldn't be there in the first place if it wasn't for their work.

Also as I posted at another comment in another similar thread, I think the world should be evolving to a 6 hours 4 days a week schedule. Our work has been way more efficient with computers and it is only getting more and more efficient. We can most definitely enjoy the advancement of humanity by adding more personal time to our schedules instead of working more. We are not at a point where we are making 1 car a day, we are at a point where there is an influx of cars in factories, an influx of flights across the globe etc.

So I'd counter the title (although since 2012) with : 'Bring on 24 hour working weeks'!

> imagine they wouldn't be there in the first place if it wasn't for their work

Indeed. Unfortunately in the U.S. we had a recent case about this issue that was decided the wrong way: Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk

It's a class-action suit brought by warehouse workers who the warehouse puts through anti-theft screening as they leave at the end of their shifts. They wanted to be paid for this time -- sometimes close to half an hour -- since it's required by their employer. The Supreme Court ruled against them.

> Is checking email working? Answering a Slack message? Taking a phone call?

Yes, yes, and yes.

Totally agree. My complaint for this article would be that given how much time the author spent on the cultural story of pushing the working hours up it'd be good to first do the basics: 1) what is "work" precisely, 2) what are the current and historical measurements of "work" per week, 3) how's the situation when you sensibly break it down, for example by profession or salary or geography.

Don't think it is so hard that we have to just throw hands in the air and only focus on the story part.

In fact, someone does gather this data, though in hours per year, not per week.

And, surprise(?): hours worked has been dropping since the 1970, not rising. https://data.oecd.org/chart/5skA

https://data.oecd.org/emp/hours-worked.htm to explore more.

It really depends on how you define work. Answering email and phone calls after hours would constitute that for me, as would being on call. But not for many, and so those things likely go unreported.

I imagine those paid hourly (wages, contractors, construction, accountants, lawyers, etc.) track their work time very closely and have very precise definitions for not work, paid work and unpaid work. It’s not everyone but it should be a significant portion of the work force and I imagine some kind of conclusion can be drawn from it.

Before the most recent re-org, me working overtime was a simple matter of "can you today?".

After the most recent re-org, it was "please get permission from the manager beforehand".

Either way I could still say "yes" or "no" so I still feel in control in some way, only now it's "in control with permission" on my "yes" if the manager agrees.

While I don't like playing "Timeclock Tommy" as a matter of course, having that mindset does protect my sanity.

I've worked at various programming jobs for startups and large companies for 10 years in New York, and I've never had to work more than 40 hours per week.

anecdotal evidence in the United States, in the last twenty years.. the concept of "overtime" has been crushed out of existance.. tech workers are essentially expected to respond to signals and/or work, just about all of the time; certain contract-bound jobs are "milking" overtime to get pay raises that are otherwise not available; employers offer extra shifts and hours to existing employees rather than hire, even if there is too much work.

It seems naive to see these one-line comments calling for 35 hours or less, when the actual-fact on the ground is extremely the opposite in a large number of cases.

In my company we have groups that over the last years have made weekend work pretty much the normal case. Whenever a project finishes management sends out congratulatory E-mails about "sacrifice" and "late hours". It gets really annoying. I can see how sometimes you have to scramble but this should be viewed as management failure and not as an incentive to glorify overwork. As far as I know there is no compensation besides a few pizzas and maybe a $50 gift card.

The evil part about this is that there is a lot of peer pressure on others to also show up and support the weekend workers although they have done their job during the week. It requires a lot of willpower to resist that.

Similar thing is happening at my firm.

Just one or two years ago weekend work was a no no. Now it is like : weekend work, fuck yeah! And our wife's are complaining. That's super funny... I have no idea what the fuck happened...

In my experience, the reason for this is deep specialization. Even for relatively simple jobs, it's very time consuming to get someone up to speed. For complex jobs it's sometimes downright impossible.

Bosses respond by heaping more work on the employees who already know what to do and can achieve it efficiently.

You should respond by asking for a raise. Be tactful, do it a few times and then use it as an argument. It really doesn't matter whether they pay you for overtime explicitly or as part of your base.

That is my experience with colleagues from the US. They say Japan is overworking itself to death, but it feels similarly crazy from the US side. I really wonder why the US doesn't have much more burnout than the folks in Europe (or maybe it does, I just haven't noticed).

Don't ostracize unions and 40-hour week will be back.

Unions got ostracized for a reason. They in many cases evolved past reasonable worker protection. I've seen examples of both, my dad has a good union as an elevator mechanic, with strong benefit bargaining power, but which allows for advancement by merit and not only seniority.

However I worked for UPS for a few years, and teamsters is the worst organization. You can't advance by merit, only seniority, and job performance is not required to be promoted. You can't get fired except for very specific offenses like sexual harassment. No call no show.or regularly being 20 minutes late weren't cause. Made work a nightmare, with no incentive to work hard and advance. When I became a supervisor and was no longer in the union, it made running your section of the building impossible, unless you managed to trade your poor performers for others.

Companies do bad things too (often very bad things) yet nobody thinks it's reasonable to just remove companies from society. Same for shares and shareholder culture, international franchise, etc.

Yet with unions, so many people think "Unions sometimes do bad, therefore it's just better not to have unions, and all the downsides of not having unions we'll just have to live with".

I suspect it's an issue of (observed) frequency; many people at least believe that the overwhelming majority of unions do more harm than good. I have nowhere near enough experience to say whether this is true, a misconception, or blatant propaganda, but it is a sentiment that I have observed.

but there are people who think companies should be eliminated. if you go to a protest rally in a large US city you will see them marching and carrying signs and advocating for their viewpoint.

Couldn't help but wonder what role the union played in the recent GM plant harassment case.

They're gonna hang a noose and GM is still too scared/unable to fire them? Am I misreading this?

But also can easily also see how merit based promotion at a production plant would be used to work workers to the bone. Gotta be some kind of balance.

in the same way that a big law firm protects big-time corporate criminals from actual justice sometimes, unions sometimes protect people who've done very bad things from facing the same justice as the average person. police officer unions in California are an example of this, IMHO. they very frequently oppose and fight the implementation of laws and policies that shine a light on the inner workings of police departments, and bad officer behavior.

Unions aren't doing themselves any favors.

I worked a job in NYC once installing a custom stage/set that we had built in Phoenix. It was full of arduinos, custom lighting controllers that i built, custom blinkenlights panels that I had built, custom robotics elements. Just all sorts of completely custom one-off elements.

It was a BATTLE with the union labor that even get it installed on time. They had absolutely no idea what any of the stuff we were doing was, they worked at a snails pace, they took breaks seemingly every 30 minutes, they were expensive, and we HAD to use them even though our fabricators were on site for the install.

It was one of the most infuriating experiences I have ever had. It was like some sort of bizarre nightmare. Worst of all, they used stupid duct tape on all of our cables and gummed them up!

Wait— a stage union? Is that IATSE down there?

I wouldn’t paint them all like that. Some of their members are brilliant and taught me a lot. Others were negligent cokeheads... but most of them got the job done.

Sounds like a bad crew more than anything.

Edit: can confirm the gaffer/duct tape thing, though. I once worked fixing up high voltage/amperage cabling and distro equipment. They always taped that gear to hell and it was terrible to clean and fix up.

I mean, probably a stage union? The issue is we weren't just putting up flats and hanging lights. This was all completely custom fabricated stuff for a trade show.

Yeah I worked directly with guys who built some high-quality custom controllers. They most-often had to be members of IATSE to work those gigs.

The 40 hours week? I thought some countries were already trying 32 hours weeks.

In US, especially in tech industry, "official" workweek is 40 hours (9 to 5, five days a week) but most people work 45 to 50 hours a week. It's very normalized to work overtime. In my current company my manager told me repeatedly that working overtime is _discouraged_ yet everyone including him work 9 to 6 pretty much every day. I leave work around 6 on a normal day and sometimes it gets as late as 7. Again, this totally culturally normal.

Honestly I think society would work better if most people worked a maximum of 30 - 35 hours.

I work best when I work around ~10 hr/week.

I don't understand why anyone would take a job or stay in a job that requires you to work more than you are comfortable with or to work more hours for free. If you are stuck, then that sucks and I feel bad for you, maybe it got sprung on you after you were in too deep, but you gotta make this stuff a priority to you if it matters, find out as you are interviewing, get ready to leave if it's not a fit, and that one thing, despite everything else being perfect, can make it a non-fit.

Maybe I've been through the looking glass because I've run my own startups and seen how others run theirs, I know the stupid culture, and I've had people try to bring me into their startups with the culture, and they reword or candy coat it to make it seem like it's ok and everyone is doing it and it's so worth it, but man, it's just a scam, plain and simple. Everyone running the show knows it.

It's hard to find jobs in many industries (although maybe not ours). It's common for people to lose their jobs to be unemployed for months before finding another. And forgoing a single paycheck can be catastrophic if you don't have anything saved up, which is true of ~40-50% of Americans.

In these circumstances, you work harder when asked to upon pain of potentially losing your job, because the alternative is much worse.

I understand that for a large group of people this is true, and they are just fucked, and there will always be a group of people that are fucked, you just gotta be cognizant of your own situation and make sure to take the reins while you can so you don't end up like those with no choices.

Many of us on here are probably lucky that we can fix it, but I bet a large group just don't because of the culture issue and peer pressure. To those people I say fight for what you want and deserve.

> I don’t understand why anyone would stay in a job

Today’s Dilbert includes the answer:

Dilbert: Give me one reason why I shouldn’t quit right now! PHB: Because every other company is just as bad.

I think there is a distinction to make here about working extra hours because you want to and being told you have to work those extra hours. My company is focused on work-life balance and goes to great lengths to not ever explicitly say that one should work some extra hours this week.

But I regularly work 60 hours/week anyway because I'm the lead on a major project and want it to succeed and anyway, I love doing it. I'm not sure if I would do it if the company said I had to work 60 hours. I think the productivity of working extra hours is entirely based on the context.

In a lot of places this is an implicit rather than an explicit expectation, which makes it more culturally acceptable. It can also be “optional” in the sense that you won’t get fired for underperformance if you don’t put in extra hours, but if you want a bonus/raise/promotion (or to be protected from the next round of layoffs) you need to “demonstrate your dedication” with presenteeism.

I visited a manufacturing plant in Guadalajara Mexico. Holy moly did the people there work long hours, I have high respect for them. Also the air was bad due to lack of pollution controls on the cars. It's a sign of the difference in standards of living between US and them.

Anyway, there is no way that working long hours is good for your health and well being. It would be fine if you did it one time for an exit, but of course there is no guarantee, and the new normal in the tech world seems to be to keep people on that treadmill forever.

From experience, I'm not sure the 40 hour work week is an actual thing outside of highly bureaucratic organizations. In part time jobs like retail or restaurant work, it seems very difficult to get enough "hours" assigned. In professional fields such as software engineering, there seems to be an abundance of possible work. However, I find that even working 50 hours a week is far more enjoyable and easy when compared to a CS/engineering degree from a top school.

It's very common in government work (and there are millions of government employees at local, state, and federal levels).

I'm at a Big 4 and it's pretty common amongst everyone I know to work 40 hour weeks.

What’s your level? I’ll be very very surprised if you’re an associate. When I worked at a big 4, the associates didn’t leave until after the senior associates, who left after the managers, who left after the senior managers (if they were around), etc. The reverse was true in the mornings. Because we were expected to maintain appearances. I didn’t play that stupid game (as a sr assoc) and definiely heard about it through back channels.

Big 4 in this context means Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. Google and MS are known to have good WLB, Amazon and Facebook do not.

Work effort seems like a collective action problem. It's a race to the bottom, trying to beat (or not be the worst of) your team. Unions are one way to solve this (collective bargaining).

Another is just competing over workers. As the economy specializes and jobs require more and more training, I wonder if this competition is getting more limited. Industry X is treating workers better than industry Y? Too bad you can't switch because you've invested years of training (and student debt) into Y and you'd have to go back to school to get into X.

Side note: I also wonder whether that contributes to software engineers having it so good. As software eats the world, every industry needs software, so switching from the entertainment industry (netflix) to web search to social media isn't that hard.

Stock options play a part at the company at which I work. Those who value the options work very hard, after hours, middle of the night from home, crack of dawn form home, weekends, look wasted, and I await their burnout snap. Those who have been through the options pot of gold at the rainbow scenario (multiple times) before fulfill contractual obligations and a touch more. Personally, four days a week is my sharp and productive limit.


And it doesn't make sense from the very first sentence otherwise.

I considered it, but didn't agree. Apparently, the admin agrees. Guess it should be mandated, or at least cleared up, when exactly should the year be included in the headline.

My understanding is that you're only expected to omit it when the article is recent.

Working over 40 hours a week is bad for work-life balance, as the employee won't have enough time to spend his money, but it's a lie that it decreases productivity. The most productive people that I know work more than 40 hours, and I don't think they do it just because they are lazy / stupid.

It’s true, but some of the most un-productive people I know also work a lot more than 40 hours. If anything it feels like no correlation to hours working.

I know Goolgle had an internal experiment in one of the offices to try to stop people to work more than 40 hours, and productivity went down, so they reverted the experiment. For me I just decided that I won't overwork even if it means that I don't get promoted.

I work 40 hours a week, give or take a bit here and there. I know startups and some bigger companies expect more, but I've never worked for one. I don't think I ever will if I can avoid it. I feel like companies asking their workers (and I'm thinking of software devs) are abusing their position.

There are lots of 40 hours a week jobs. Most of them don't pay enough to put the people that work in them in the top 15% of individual income. Nor are they, by and large, relatively low pay, but high prestige jobs like being a journalist.

From what I've seen the software industry is pretty good at this. At companies I've been at, people sometimes choose to work over 40 but it's rare. Friends in finance regularly work 60 though.

I think this is an interesting example of having intrinsic motivation driving the extension of the work. Perhaps being requested to do so has a different effect on performance

Thanks, but I already enjoy my 40-hour, 10-day week.


Could you please post thoughtful comments? This isn't a look-I'm-clever-and-edgy one-liner site.


If you don’t want to work more than 40 hrs a week. Don’t. Afraid of company retaliation? Find another job at a company where the culture is more in line with your views. Better yet, start your own company and work as little as you want.

Life work balance is on you. Regardless of who you work for or with in the US.

If you still want to whine about it, join the armed forces, serve your country, and get back to us about work ethic and life balance. I’ll wait.

When it works, this is good advice. Unfortunately, not everyone is in a position where they can reasonably make that kind of decision; someone with (say college) debt in an area with a terrible job market realistically has very little choice.

In US at least in tech industry you'll have a hard time to find a company where working after 5 isn't the norm. You definitely can not do it. But most of your coworkers will be doing it.

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