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Is 40 hours a week too much? (okta.com)
259 points by deterministic 75 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 220 comments



Many companies think their employees are being productive for 40 hours a week, while it's actually somewhere between 10 and 20, with the rest being a big void. If you are actually doing 40 hours a week you are productive as hell.


While the "I'm sitting down and writing things that are going to be productive" is likely in the 10-20h/week range, there is still a lot of

  * Meetings
  * Mentoring
  * Answering random questions
  * Continuing education (Hey, Spring 6.0 was just released, what's in that?)
  * Support (and being available for support)
Those can easily fill in a lot of the 'void'.

I can point to 5h/week that are standing 'meetings' where it is often 'me helping out someone with a git or jira or GitHub issue' and it is that time that is designated each day (to try to avoid having the 'answering random questions' become too disruptive).

I am certainly not '40h/w, butt in seat, head down coding' and even though I may be only "productive" 10-20h/week, I'm certainly busy with work stuff to fill up the rest of my day. It's never "do an hour or two of work in the morning and day dream for the remaining six hours."


Most of these conversations seem to come down to weird definitions of "productive time".

Most of us managers would consider meetings, mentoring, work-related Slack conversations to be productive time. Yet I read a lot of the comments here where people don't consider anything to be productive time unless they're actively writing code, which ignores the realities of working in a team environment.

A better metric might be tracking the amount of non-work time: Time spent on HN, social media, reading news articles, running errands. Again, us managers are realistic that everyone can (and should!) take small breaks throughout the day. However, if those breaks expand to fill 20-30 hours of the supposed 40-hour workweek, something has gone very wrong. That's certainly not normal at any well managed company.


But those weird definitions of productive almost never get spoken of or considered when it comes to timelining a project or KPI, etc

So while it may be important, it's just wasted time for many.

Says more about the organisation than the definitions, but still.


I completely agree.

In fact, even just for specifically code-related work, think about code review. Really closely reviewing a big PR can take hours.

Here's a fun thought experiment. How many engineers in a team do you need before one of them could be employed full-time just reviewing others' code?

I don't know the answer, but it could be as few as 10 other team members, depending on the size and complexity of the PRs.

And reviewing code is extraordinarily productive - looking for correctness, code style and patterns, tool selection and usage, app structure, etc., etc. One of the best ways to mentor team members and help keep the codebase clean.


There is a framework that we used to use for tim classification in manufacturing that was based around adding value to the product - in software that would be coding, testing, etc. Then there is necessary non-value add, like meetings and slack, that are needed (so are work as you say) but don't in themselves make the product directly, so you want to minimize time spent on them while still accomplishing whatever is needed (obviously easier said then done). Same goes for admin stuff. And then there is non-value add, like HN or whatever.

Personally, I think the non-value add category doesn't translate from a factory to coding. If your job is putting boxes on a pallet, when you're browsing HN instead you probably don't do it faster later. When coding, at least for me, I take breaks to think or clear my mind, and I'm not swapping productive coding for online time wasting, browsing HN (or taking a walk or coffee) is a necessary part of the work that improves productivity.

All that to say, meetings and other management stuff can and should be streamlined as much as possible, small breaks, not necessarily. If someone is actually typing code (or an equivalent activity) 25% of their time sitting at the computer, I'd consider that e extremely productive.


The value-add model is interesting. How would you characterize:

1. An hour-long meeting where architecture is decided

2. Doing investigation/documentation of RCA for an incident

3. Spec reviews with stakeholders who will have to use the product


Right, examples like yours are where it gets interesting. What I think can work is minimizing who needs to be involved in these kind of activities (not to say as few as possible, but only those its relevant too), and looking at how important they are to the desired outcomes, basically understanding how much time they take up vs what the return on the time is. All easier said than done of course.


I do like the idea. Maybe there’s a distinction between direct productivity and indirect, overhead-like contribution? Sort of the difference between gross margin and net income?

But it’s tough. As a product manager, I think that the right spec can greatly increase engineering efficiency. If that’s true, and bear with me, spending an extra 20 hours on a spec might save 1000 hours of dev time. Isn’t that the same as making those devs more productive? So do we count that work as 20 hours, or 1000 hours?

I like it in principle but I’m not sure it scales across disciplines.


I would consider anytime you are thinking about a work issue as productive time. So yes that includes time i am mindlessly browsing HN while my brain is processing information for me to come up with a neat solution to a problem.

But yes managers dont get this when i say i get all my work done during lunch hour.


I work for a company where meetings are extremely rare. We only do formal meetings when everything else fails. It is one of the most efficient/productive companies I have ever worked for.

The least efficient/productive company I have ever worked for had formal meetings all the time. What takes a week where I work now would take 6 months there.

So no I don’t agree that meetings are automatically productive/useful in general. I am pretty sure you can measure how productive a software company is by the following formula:

Time spent working on projects divided by Time spent in meetings.


You’re describing what I’d understand as productive time: if someone says they’re not being productive, I interpret it to mean there’s zero value to be derived for their employer from their activities. For example, being asleep or browsing Reddit or watching YouTube videos…

When I say I’ve only been productive for 20 hours in a week, I don’t mean I spent 20 hours programming and 20 hours in meetings, I mean I spent 10 hours programming and 10 hours in meetings. I’d be surprised if most people only count programming time as productive time! If you’re doing 40 hours a week of programming + meetings + support + any other needle-moving things, you’re more productive than I’ve ever been in a job.


Being available is still useful to your employer on some level. Even if you are watching videos, you can close it the minute you get a ping that needs your attention.

The only completely unproductive state is if you're doing nothing for your job and also refuse to respond to communications.


This is my experience. I spend 10-20 hours a week doing work that fits my job description. The rest is learning, mentoring, and organizing with other parts of the business to better enable me in those 10-20 hours of "real" work.

That said, I feel you could cut my time on the clock from 40 hours a week to 32 with minimal-to-no impact on my total productivity.


What is the definition of Productive here?

Is it lines of code or reasoning about lines which lines of code to write/adjust and everything else is not?

My definition would encompass all of the stuff you mentioned as ancillary. In some cases, it's even more Productive than the actual code writing.


There are different types of voids.

1. Non work social media. 2. Work socializing (water cooler). 3. External support/collaboration/reviews. 4. Day dreaming not about work. 5. Thinking about work while not “producing” maybe not even at computer.

I can work 40 hours where it feels like 10-20 hours are actually working on my “planned” work, but the other time is on #3 and #5 which “feels” like a void but is actually critical and valuable to business.

I’m not saying you are but some people categorize this sort of work as BS or not work and that’s totally wrong IMO.


5 is a big one.!I’ve solved more problems playing guitar or in the shower than I ever have banging my head against the keyboard


In that sense coding is like writing a book. Are you only productive when you actually type the words?


most of my coding time is actually figuring out the right way to do something. breaking the problem down right and then another big chunk is identifying (& 'fixing') interactions with external components. I know those are important things but at some level it feels as if I am not being productive. still I justify it by thinking about the opportunity cost of doing it the wrong way.


Right, and that's the part where it really helps to be well rested, stress-free and not being monitored by a warden/jailor :)


6. Spiralling

;)


> If you are actually doing 40 hours a week you are productive as hell.

I disagree. But I think what we qualify as "work" is more rigid than it needs to be. Is spending 5 minutes looking at HN every few hours work? Most people would say no, but it absolutely helps developers to know what's going on or new or what other devs outside their company are saying.

If I spend 20 minutes reading about a language/app that my company doesn't use is that work? I think a lot of the "yes" answers would be accompanied by rolling eyes.


Also, there is an assumption that everyone can be productive for any length of time without some form of intermission to break it up. What if most people need a 5-10 minute break for every 30 minutes work? You might not be able to get around that by just making the daily or weekly work hours shorter. You'd just be applying the productivity factor to fewer total hours.

I doubt we've found the optimal work to rest ratio, but a lot of these assumptions go unchallenged in these discussions.


> If I spend 20 minutes reading about a language/app that my company doesn't use is that work? I think a lot of the "yes" answers would be accompanied by rolling eyes.

I think it's unfair to not count any of this as work. As engineers it's important for us to be on top of current trends and available tools.

Yes, your company might not use it today, but if no one reads about new developments in tooling/languages, your companies processes will always stay the same and (if better tools for the job emerge), will just be priming a market that new entrants using better technology will be better able to serve.

Some exploration of new technologies is really important for people in our field, and it's really unfortunate that (many) people working in the field feel they have to spend ~10-20 hours per week of their own time keeping abreast of new developments to stay competitive


Ok but can you write an OKR for reading HN?


Cue people reading HN for exactly 1200 seconds per day then overflow onto r/hackernews


Best not forget to groom that ticket as well


I'll go a step further. If you're productive 40 hours a week, then you're a tool, in the pure sense of that word.

You'll be passed over for promotions because you're so good in your current position!

You'll be praised and then one day you'll get a new boss when your old boss moves on. And your new boss will have this need to prove themselves to their boss. And they'll do this by turning your 40 hour week into a 60 hour week. Why? Because you're a tool!

Don't be a tool. Do what your boss does - spend time talking to people around the company - thats what lunch meetings are all about - figure out how to get those expensed! Get to know everyone and follow up with them frequently. Invite them to non-work things. Go home early because you have a life.

Unless, of course, your work is your life. In which case, you're leaving the dream, bud!


> with the rest being a big void.

There shouldn't be a 20-30 hour "void" in people's work week.

If people are meeting, discussing work, building relationships within the company, or otherwise doing things around their work, I still consider that to be productive time. Nobody actually expects programmers to be writing code 40 hours a week. We know this.

On the other hand, if people are spending 30 hours per week messing around on the internet, browsing social media, chatting in social Discords, or other activities that are clearly not work related, that's not normal at all at well managed companies.

There are a lot of companies where people can get away with working 2 hours per day and then ignoring work for the other 6 hours of their supposed 40-hour work week, of course. I think a lot of people have experienced these companies somewhere in their career and concluded that everyone, everywhere is actually only expected to do 2 hours of work-related things per day. It's not true at all, and I've met a lot of people who really struggle to adapt once they finally end up on a well-managed team that expects people to put in more than a couple hours of work-related effort per day.

I suspect we'll see a lot of companies clamping down on these low-productivity pockets now that the easy money has run out and we're all forced to examine personnel costs very closely. I know I've had a few coworkers who curiously never seem to do much of anything. They've always been first to go when the layoffs arrive and their managers are forced to choose who stays and who goes.


While I agree with you in principle, some of us have KPIs which implicitly assume "productivity" equals "hands on keyboard, delivering features".

I'm a consultant with a 70% utilisation goal, meaning that at least 28 hours per week needs to be spent on things which I can defend billing a customer for. Add non-billable pre-sales activity and admin task on top, and not much time is left over.

My own experience and what I've observed in other people is that this is unsustainable both because of normal working habits and the unreliable cadence of new projects. As a result, I spend a few months of the year working 60 hours per week to get ~100% utilisation, then the next few months getting as much project time as possible while also catching up on all the other obligations I was forced to neglect like training.

As I write this, consulting seems more and more like a really shitty style of working...


> On the other hand, if people are spending 30 hours per week messing around on the internet, browsing social media, chatting in social Discords, or other activities that are clearly not work related, that's not normal at all at well managed companies.

It all just depends on how much ambition you have my friend, you too can slack off for 3/4 of your workday if you don't take on more responsibility than you can do in 1/4 of your time lolololol


I agree with most of what you say, but it still leaves room for efficiency gains if there’s 15 hours a week of meetings and building relationships that could be done in half that time, leaving an entire workday freed up.

I’ve worked on plenty of teams where nebulous “team building” was an entirely enjoyable and majority unnecessary excess way to spend time at work. Loved those teams, but we could have worked a 4 day week, still had a tight team, and gotten just as much done for the business.


> I know I've had a few coworkers who curiously never seem to do much of anything. They've always been first to go when the layoffs arrive and their managers are forced to choose who stays and who goes.

I've heard that at Amazon, these people are referred to as "PIP fodder", which makes it sound like they're still able to contribute the fulfillment of business objectives, in their own way


My thinking time doesn't compute into my company's KPIs but it definitely is an essential part of my job.

The thing is that many modern jobs don't fit a taylorist model where you can measure worker performance precisely.

Not to mention that many variables that affect worker performance are out of control of companies.


"If you are actually doing 40 hours a week you are productive as hell."

That's assuming that the work you've been set to do is productive, and you're doing it in a productive manner. For instance, I've spent weeks grinding away on features that never get used by customers. Is that productive? I've also spent hours trying to fix a bug because of infrastructure/platform/tooling constraints that means the code/compile/debug cycle is stupidly slow. Is that productive?

I don't have the slightest doubt I could be a lot more productive than I am now while working less hours. But it's often down to factors that are more or less out of my control.


Only weeks? Jesus. I feel like I've spent a good decade or two of my best years doing that.

"No better options" is a hell of a drug, haha.


Well, sure, the total amount of time I've spent working on features that never ended up getting used by customers over the last two decades or so is something I wouldn't want to think about. A certain amount of it is inevitable with software development (or probably any sort of product design and development), and you'd like to think you're at least learning something from the experience, but undoubtedly you could be doing better things with your time...


My fear is that if you’re being productive 20 hours and unproductive 20 hours a week and the work week is reduced, how do we know you won’t just end up being productive 10 hours and unproductive 20.

That said, we should definitely be experimenting. If people are equally productive at 40 hours and 20 hours, we shouldn’t keep them in the office just for aesthetics.


>My fear is that if you’re being productive 20 hours and unproductive 20 hours a week and the work week is reduced, how do we know you won’t just end up being productive 10 hours and unproductive 20.

Unless you are a cashier or some other customer service position, the time you spend working should be matter very little compared to your output.

If you a job that takes you 20 hours, you can either do it in 20 hours and get a huge chunk of your life back, or you can do it in 40 hours and spend a lot of time chatting with your coworkers making them unproductive.

It's up to management to understand how much time it takes to complete tasks and to staff accordingly.


The article cites several instances that indicate that wouldn't be the case.


This is very dependent on the industry. My friend does tech support for field technicians at a major alarm company. When he is working he is really working. The calls/paperwork are constant.

Conversely, many gigs I've had there was multiple hours per day of mindless web surfing because there just wasn't work to do.


Many managers just want to see the serfs whose time they've paid good money to rent, fuelling their egotistical needs, and are not making rational choices about productivity at all.

Such irrationalities have always been present in the institution of wage slavery.

See twitter for an excellent current example of what this looks like.


If you are actually doing 40 hours a week, you're probably working at least 60 hours.


There are companies in the SW industry that require 40h/week and actually monitor that (e.g. collecting metrics in 10-minute intervals and rejecting intervals with low intensity levels).


Got a list? Just so I know which companies to avoid like the plague.

Sometimes I'll wander round the house and read docs or make notes on my tablet while doing housework, still contributing to future work/planning but definitely would show as 'inactive'.


I am sure those companies won't pop on your radar but they will for Indians and other foreigners that want to earn average US salary in their own countries. And yes, you should completely avoid them, they have typically terrible reviews and treat devs as machines.

I know one UK dev who took a job in one of those, moved there from some hotel booking company, earned $200k, lasted almost 2 years and then got unceremoniously sacked right when one of his close family members passed away due to missing required metrics.


There is one that advertises heavily and comes up on job searches. I don't recall the name, but you can tell because of the weird range of salaries, like $50k for a developer while paying $300k for the manager. When I dug in I saw they use this kind of tracking software.


Yeah, could be one of those. Anyway, the rule is to stay away even if they offer $400k/year ;-)


That might be Twitter … by Monday morning


Twitter will get 12-hour shifts common in Tesla instead...


In the US? That sounds bananas to me.


BTW, most FAANG companies monitor and record everything you are doing, you just don't hear about it because they are smart about it. But when SHTF, you learn very quickly. Also ask Meta devs about their typical workload if they want to keep their jobs (they actually have to work).


Not to mention illegal in the EU.


Not if they only do business in the EU with legal entities like freelancers or small limited-liability pass-through companies where there is no weekly time limit for the owner nor the "no monitoring" requirement.


They also have different definitions of what productive means. For example, employees may view meetings and such as unproductive whereas the company may view it as a productive part of the decision making process. Organizational & communication overhead is required for working in coordination with large numbers of people in multiple disciplines. However, from the IC employee's perspective it's mostly a distraction and counter productive towards their outputs.


On the flip side; no one is productive 100% of the time.

If people worked 20 hours per week, the actual productive time would likely be between 5 and 10 hours per week.


No, people would cut the unnecessary BS in order to get things done. Most people can’t concentrate 40h/week, so the BS serves to fill up the remaining time.


Do you think people would be able to maintain 100% productivity when working 20 hours/week?


I work like that. I work fully remote, around 20-25 hours a week but when I start working I do focus on work for 4-5 hours without any breaks, no HN, no social media, no eating, nothing. In every company/team I've worked in, I was almost always seen as the most productive person, while others reported working 40+ hours a week. It can be done if you have proper environment for it.


With adequate breaks (that don’t count against the 20h), yes.


Freelance web developer background currently developer / business owner - my achievable baseline is 30 hours of billed out time and around 10 hours of admin/emails/meetings etc. Keeping the emails from eating the rest is an ongoing battle though.


Do you not charge for meetings? And what about emails where you're hashing out something clearly in the domain of what you're working on?


It depends on the meetings (and the email), if its directly related to a project it can fall under project management but a lot of them end up being internal comms or estimating for minor jobs that might not be approved etc.


When I’m consulting the only meetings I don’t bill for are meetings with prospects.


Exactly, the majority of people aren't putting in 40 hours a week of productive work unless they're working over 40 hours.

We shouldn't treat productivity like we're robots, we're not switched on working on a repetitive task for all of 8 hours a day.


Despite what people think, coding 100% is not necessary most productive. Those meetings and social intersection are more useful than people would guess, it is hard to measure team cohesion and the power of good decisions like lines of code.


>f you are actually doing 40 hours a week you are productive as hell.

This is the 10x engineer. Their peers are working 10 hours, but never get in the flow like they do. Hence the 10x productivity.


I think the shocking this is we are still talking about this when it has been everyone's lived experience for decades.


I heard Elon does 120 hours a week. /s

I haven't seen anyone doing 40 hours a week. At least not more than a week.


> I heard Elon does 120 hours a week. /s

It's not exactly hard at his level. He can delegate absolutely everything and cannot be obliged to do anything. He can pick who is around him at all times, and they are usually obligated to cater to his wishes. 120 hours of casual chats, meetings, presentations, shared meals, and travel count as long as it's related to any of his 3 major businesses.


Not sure where he finds time for that in-between tweeting, jerking off, smoking dope, eating cheetos, playing video games, and quid pro quo sexual harassment, lol.


I once worked real 60-70h weeks, ca 4 weeks nonstop in order to meet a critical deadline. Probably took three days off in that timeframe. I basically slouched in the living room all day and hacked away, surviving on chocolate and nootropics. Can’t recommend this, at all! My body tenses whenever I think about that, three years later, and I never wanna do that again.


I've seen tons of people doing it for extended periods of time. I can think of - ambitious people working in competitive environments (research, corporations, students) - doctors/dentists/nurses, lot of them work long hours and their job require focus - small business owners


And as long as their patients are willing to pay the costs of this practice with their blood, everything will be fine :)


Medical residents work 80 hours a week. And that's an average over 4 weeks, so they could work 90 easily one week.

40 is nothing...


Medical residents tend to be highly stressed, and these practices were apparently originated by a man who used cocaine in the same manner as coffee.


With patients paying a staggering toll as a result.

Maybe we should work pilots like that... It'd certainly make flying more "fun"


Lawyers and bankers regularly do 4000 hour years. Doctors often average 60 hour weeks for extended periods of time. What are you talking about?


Yeah, and the survival rate from cardiac arrest increases when cardiologists are away at a conference, too.

Wonder if the two things could be related.


> while it's actually somewhere between 10 and 20, with the rest being a big void.

are you joking? 2 hours a day is nothing.

> actually doing 40 hours a week you are productive as hell.

i've easily topped 100 hours a week for prolonged periods. i'd guess it is the same for any founder.


Yeah, I think there is a pretty big culture bubble, and know people on both sides.

Some people spend most of their life working 60 real hours weeks, especially blue collar work.

I have a white collar workplace, and there is a big spread. There are people that do 20 hours of real work and those with a 60+ hour average.

I have done 100+ hour weeks of real heads down work & all nighters , but can't/wont do it prolonged.

As skeptical as some people are of merit based compensation, I'm confident that the willingness to pull out the stops and get it done has lead to promotions, raises, and freedom to scale down my workload during slow times.

I think it is interesting that some people simply don't believe that high volume work happens, is productive, or is even possible.


> I'm confident that the willingness to pull out the stops and get it done has lead to promotions, raises, and freedom to scale down my workload during slow times.

If I had this confidence, I'd put in the hours cheerfully; I've had spells of 80-100 hour weeks in the past and invariably it was caused by sales people or managers over-promising without asking a technical expert, and could have easily been avoided. Doing the hours resulted in some vague gratitude at best.

Now (in a new role), I can see clear evidence of things which are correlated with promotion, but working long hours is not one of them.


I agree that hours by themselves are largely meaningless. I should be more clear and specify hours when necessary, and not some arbitrary deadline. For example, I've been on projects that are stuck or failing and each day they are down or behind costs 7 digit revenue per day. Being the person capable and willing to work overnight to fix it or put in long weeks until it's done bought me a lot of Goodwill, promotions, Etc. I still have directors that mention them in all staff meetings after 5+ years.

Of course working 60 hours a week on some bullshit project with no impact will not have the same results.


I have never experienced long hours translating into raises or promotions. Then again, I have worked for startups.


There is a frequent pattern which concerns me of primarily justifying the desire for reduced work hours in terms of the alleged increase in productivity this will bring about (by allowing recharging, preventing burnout, etc.). I worry that this already concedes too much. This allows for just as much stressful dominance of work over the rest of life, and shame over any deviation from this script, as maximizes productivity.

Even if my shorter-work-hours productivity doesn't match my longer-work-hours productivity, I'd still prefer shorter-work-hours, with no guilt over having those preferences. My goal in life is not to optimize everything I do for maximum benefit of my employer; I have my own priorities and trade-offs to worry about.


> There is a frequent pattern which concerns me of primarily justifying the desire for reduced work hours in terms of the alleged increase in productivity this will bring about

Usually in the form of conflating diminishing returns with less absolute productivity.


Right, for me it'd ideally be zero, so i can spend some of the free time doing productive, socially constructive work, that I consent to do without threats, inducements, or coercion.



yeah i was very surprised to see this on an okta domain. you probably shouldn’t be putting out posts like these unless you’re literally announcing a 4 day work week


okta may have among the best datasets to measure work at tech cos.

some days it seems like my job at tech co is to authenticate.


"what is my purpose?"

"you SSO into b2b saas and send a few kb's around every day"

"oh my god"


I've just started a new role as an EM and because of disability have been able to reduce my hours (and proportionally my pay) down to 20hrs per week. I work only 9am-3pm [minus 1hr for lunch] on Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri. It's going well for me so far. My cognitive hours are nicely compressed into those time windows, so although it's still hard (due to disability stuff) I'm still finding it so so much easier and more fulfilling than toiling behind a physical desk for 40-60hrs a week, half of which I'd be mostly whiling away time or doing performative work. I spent over ten years doing just that...

I look back and see so much wasted time, and saw so many colleagues who seemed drained and generally rushed to fit in 'life' things around work. Family, friends, hobbies, medical appointments, enjoying nature [...]. It should be the opposite of this. Work should come second to life, especially if we have the luxury of making it so. Otherwise, what are we all doing??


4DWW - Four Day Work Week is the future. So many benefits for workers and the company! It's a win-win for many types of companies. Even if it's not a win for all companies, society would benefit greatly by mandating 4 days of 8 hours with no loss of pay as the standard.

https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2022/11/15/1136039542/the...


That and remote work. But sadly too many yearn outside control of their lives and cant handle freedom. I bet you a lot will complain they miss working one extra day because they cant socialise with their colleagues or they will simply say they want to work extra because they have nothing better to do with their lives.


Disagree. Let me introduce you to 5DWWBO6HPD (acronym is subject to change). 5 days, 6 hours.

If I dont have any meetings past my 6th hour of being in work-mode (including lunch time), I'm not going to produce anything that won't anger me future-self. The 5DWWBO6HPD also helps you to be actually productive after the 6th hour when the need arises every once in a while and you have to be on "Elon is breathing down my neck"-mode.


> 5 days, 6 hours

Many remote salary workers regularly work 6 hour days. Getting more recognition for this seems like a good first step in getting acceptance for 4 days, 8 hours.


Maybe 5D6HWW?


Seems needless to say 5D when that's the status quo -- just 6HWD - Six Hour Work Days

6HWD vs 4DWW - FIGHT ;)


I wish I lived in the world where "obviously beneficial to everyone" implied "it will be the future!" Plenty of things just get worse, just because. People are fucking awful. I look forward to the day when AGI takes over the world.


An interesting book on this topic: https://equilibriabook.com/ - Inadequate Equilibria by Eliezer Yudkowsky.

Societies (and smaller groups like companies too) could get stuck in a shitty "equilibria" - where even a non-expert can spot the inefficiencies, suggest obvious improvements, and yet not have the change occur. A great analysis of the unfortunate gridlock we find ourselves in sometimes.


In my early 20s when I worked as an electrician I never felt that 40 hour long weeks were too much. Working as a programmer I definitely feel that it is way too much. The head (mine at least) really needs a lot more time to recuperate.


Yeah, 40/week in restaurants or a trade really was a breeze. Most of the time you wanted to put in minimum 40 to get benefits.


Working construction, when I was wasn't there I wasn't thinking about my job at all. Once I left the jobsite I was free.

I know it is different if you are managing a job, but as an average worker it was not too bad.


There is so much variability in the kind of work people do it's hard to make a rule that fits everyone. For knowledge workers I think 40 hours is near the top of productive time you are able to wring from people. Certainly some individuals could work much more if engaged, but on the whole, without a strong incentive otherwise, I think 40 hours is a maximum limit.


I agree with you on this. It is not only task based but individual based. When I am at my desk doing tech type work I max out 'productively' at about 30 hours +/- depending on what I'm doing. But when I'm out doing farm stuff I can run 60 or 70 hours without much trouble when on the tractor etc., or a bit less when stacking hay bales.

Mentally tired, for me, is much harder to recover from than physically tired. I'm not saying I want to work 70 or 80 hours a week lifting heavy things, but this type of hourly rating system can be very subjective by the individual.


I think if there were more variability in scheduling a lot of people would exceed 40 hours on average without much issue.

If office workers had the ability to have more relaxed PTO I think it would alleviate a lot of that. But even in places where that's possible via the type of work, it's still culturally not acceptable to just take a day off here or there without a "reason."


From my personal experience it's closer to 30, sometimes less depending on the level of creativity and number of independent disciplines/specialized knowledge bases I need to draw upon and unify for a solution. After that I'll happily welcome the most mundane, repetitive and simple tasks.


Most doctors, lawyers and investment bankers all work well over 40 hours.


Investment bankers are just being exploited though. I don't think they fight against it because of the payoff.


I've always felt a bit like an alien from outer space when trying to understand the work habits of modern humans. It seems we spend enough time doing what we think we have to do to survive that it feels like the only thing we actually do. Everything else in our life feels secondary. I'm not sure this is even normal in nature. Seems like a lot of animals spend much of their time just sort of hanging out. Does it honestly take so much time to cover your bases? I think not.

It feels as though the modern 9-5 lifestyle is a lie that no one questions. I just can't get behind it as long as I feel like our society doesn't actually require that much constant effort to maintain or even to keep pointed in the right direction.


"The lion never says "It took me 15 minutes to hunt the antelope, if I keep at it, I might hunt 4 more down -- wait I could actually take tomorrow off!" -- The lion isnt stupid, he didn't go to business school. Au contraire, lion is much smarter than the MBA, he knows that even if he hunted down 5 antelopes today, he still can't take tomorrow off: He has to build a fridge on his day off. On the day following his day off he has to somehow work to get the electricity working, then he has to build a house to protect the fridge and at the end of the day the lion will never have the time to lie in the sun and say "Man, that tasted so good, how lucky am I?".

Only a human can be tricked into thinking like that"

Volker Pispers (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IysGB9yXE_g)


That's civilization, and it is the thing that allowed humans to survive better than lions, despite being physically weaker and less hardy.


Agree completely. My point was that I feel like it doesn't actually take so much effort to maintain that we have to feel strung out all the time. I imagine we could continue to survive and thrive quite effectively with far less effort directed in the right way.

We seem to continue to hustle to survive but the notion of survival is ingrown and only really has meaning within the context of humanity. The broader notion of survival, against the elements, seems like a solved problem.


> The broader notion of survival, against the elements, seems like a solved

not really. It's easy to survive against the elements, but that's because those who perform the tasks of helping you survive against the elements (and food and necessities) are expecting you to contribute higher-order goods/services back.

> thrive quite effectively with far less effort directed in the right way.

so who's doing the directing? if it's a central authority, we know how that went.

The only real option left is market directed. Which is what we have today. There cannot be, at the current technological level, an easy life. Until the day humanity move to post-scarcity, this will remain the case.


I believe a lot of people understand this but they have no choice, especially those working for less money.

IMO the bigger problem is consumerism and the ephemeral nature of many goods (they break easily). This keeps us on the hamster wheel forever.

If it wasn't for that, my current salary can cover _everything_ in my rented flat for one year of work, maximum two. Add 5-10 more for a good flat or a house.

It seems the system doesn't want people to retire at 30. So we're kept busy and all our stuff breaks constantly.

It sucks and it gave me a serious existential dread but I see no way out. Working hard to maybe have a side gig with a passive income is the best I can do right now.

So again, I believe a lot of people understand what you're saying but what can they do?


Yep, agreed. Didn't mean to blame people necessarily.


If I buckle down I can do 10 hours a day 3 days a week for a few months, then I burn out four a while. If I do 4 to 6 hours a day of low to medium intensity work (focused debugging with interspersed Google searches and occasional HN breaks) 4 days a week, I’m able to keep it up forever. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do 9-5x5 ever again, especially having to go into an office.


8-to-5 is 45 hours a week. I'm still in the office, even for lunch.

Considering travel, it bumps up to 50 hrs/week.

I hate how this 10-hour "work tax" is always dismissed as part of 40 hour work week.


This is a great point that too few people think about. I like to take travel time and mandatory lunch breaks into account when I'm figuring out my 'adjusted' wage, and I use that number when thinking about getting a different job or taking time off. Your time isn't ACTUALLY worth $20/hr (or whatever), its more like 16, or less if you factor in taxes.


This is why I will only take remote jobs. I got sick of spending two hours a day in bumper-to-bumper traffic.


You could try living in a city where you can commute via train. 1 hour on a train is significantly different than 1 hour driving a car.


Still 1 hour of your life gone. Might be better by train but why do it at all if not needed?


I'm at the stage now where if a company required me in the office, the surcharge I'd be asking on top of my wage (30% would do it) would be so hilarious that it would be insulting, but in my mind, that's kinda the point.


I don't think it's unrealistic to think you can get a 30% pay bump by taking another job, or that asking for 30% over what you might think is "fair market rate" for your skills is a bad idea


I think the company should just count the travel hours as work hours if office presence is mandatory.


Do you go to the office because you need to or want to? Seems there is some difference there.


Why does that even matter? Or do you just assume everyone is a Javascript programmer?

If I say "need" people will tell me it's my fault and to change jobs.

If I say "want" people will tell me it's my fault and to change jobs.


I don’t assume anyone is a javascript programmer by choice really but anyway. Of course it matters; if you want to be in the office, why count your travel hours? Your choice. If you need to be in the office, that’s another case.


You are missing the point: it is endemic to the culture. It has nothing to do with personal choice. It's like blaming a sexual assault victim for what they wear: that's not the issue, it is toxic masculinity that is the problem, e.g., the culture, not the individual incident.


Yes it is. I have a job like that now that I got out of school. I've been working at it for 5 years and honestly it sucks all of my life away. Basically the week is all work with evenings being too tired to enjoy life and the weekends being about recovery for the next work week.

Luckily it's a tech job pays well, so I saved up enough so that I can quit. I'm doing that in a couple months, and after I'll just enjoy life and support myself with freelance work that I enjoy a lot more. F** the system, I couldn't care less about the success of any company or the products they produce.


"Finally, when the 40-hour workweek was established, two-income households were rare. Only 15.2% of married women were employed in 1940. But as of 2012, 60% of households had dual incomes. When both members of a couple work, it leaves less time for children, chores, errands, food preparation, and everything else that must occur outside of working hours."

40 hour workweek is fine for most people, but I think HR ought to be more flexible in working hours and salary employees choose, based on their season of life. Because we are dual-income with 3 young children, I work 32 hrs instead of 40; but it's an odd arrangement I had to ask for. I see families in a simliar situation struggling, and I think it ought to be more of the norm to offer this without a company raising questions about productivity/loyalty/laziness/benefits etc.


Quantization of work is so weird to me in the context of software engineering.

Most of the work I do happens passively as I think about some problem. Much of this thinking occurs outside of the traditional 9-5 window.

"Amount of time spent presiding over a work PC" doesn't count as a useful metric in my book. I prefer to measure the quality of work via outcomes and customer feedback. Meetings are an unhappy exception to all of this, but they are a necessary evil. Eliminate unnecessary meetings with prejudice - They will come back like zombies if they were really that important to the business.

Contributions still need to be mapped to outcomes, but that has nothing inherently to do with a time dimension. Non-contributors and relative performance should still be quite obvious to management, even if you can't say exactly how much time was spent by each participant.


Back in the golden age of working from home, when internet service wasn't sufficient for for the barrage of pointless meetings, I was working no more than two hours per day. My coworkers and employers, who all worked in the office at the time, used to joke that I must be an entire team of people.

I still only get time for no more than two hours of actual work each day, but now that so many think they should expand to consume all the capabilities of the modern network by having endless meetings for no good reason, I'm much more exhausted when it comes to getting anything done during these two hours and productivity suffers as a result.

It is devastating how much less productive I've become spending more time working. I want to get things done.


It is also very difficult to define "work" and the various definitions contradict each other. I've met programmers who start coding as soon as they hear about a requirement and then spend weeks untangling the web of spaghetti code they have previously written down.

I tend to sit down and think before I write even a single line of code. In the office, I used to stare at my screen with headphones on to "look like I was working". Now that I work from home, I usually spend that time walking around the house, doing mindless chores, and sometimes lying down on my bed in the dark.

I would say that the time spent lying in my bed is my most productive time. Someone else might say I steal billable hours.


I feel the same about stealing billable hours. My creative time happens always in the background, when I doing chores or watching tv series. And then I come to the office and stare at my screen to "look like I was working". I can't help it and sometime my creative time spans 2-3hrs, something I cannot do during staring hours. I feel guilty. But your answer put my mind at ease, thank you.


At the beginning of the pandemic, as a cost-saving measure my company did furloughs, which for most of us were mandatory unpaid days off two days a week for 6 weeks. We could take off Sun/Mon, Mon/Tues, Thurs/Fri, Fri/Sun, or Mon/Friday, depending on coverage and what made sense regionally. (Our middle east offices worked Sun-Thu normally, the Islamic weekend is Fri/Sat)

I have to say, only 3 days "at work" in a week felt just a bit too few, and I was often rushing to get everything done that had to get done that week.

On the other hand, on US holiday weeks with Monday offs, are fantastic feelings work-wise. I feel like I get basically the same amount done in the week, and the weekend is considerably more relaxing- still tired Friday night, but Sunday afternoon and night isn't a mad dash of "finish all chores that need to be done before the weekend wraps up"

Things would be different if my job was something more service-focused, like a doctor or dentist or hair stylist, where by definition they're going to be at 20% less productive if they're only seeing clients/patients/etc for 4 days a week instead of 5, so I'm not quite sure how as a society we balance that out, but I really wish 4 day weeks were much more the norm, and if I ever run my own company, that's what we're going to aim for.


I agree about the 4 day week. During Covid may company reduced work hours to 32 and we took off Friday. I definitely felt that people were actually working these hours and meetings were way more focused. Overall i don’t think our release schedule got hurt at all by being less hours at work


Did you return to a 5 day week out of interest? If not I'd love to add the company to https://4dayweek.io/


Unfortunately we have returned to a 5 hour week. And management is pushing hard for a return to the office.


I think people conflate "being productive" with "work."

The work is simply the contractual agreement between you and your employer. He or it has a notion about how long it's supposed to take, and you do too. And so on your end, you have to be willing to give up a certain amount of freedom in order to stay productive enough for the workplace to want to award you for the time spent in their service, whether that time is productive or not.

On their end, they of course want you to be as productive as possible, but they also know that it's not possible 100% of the time. And so that is the basis for the contract.

Then there are ways around it. Say you can make a hack that'll make you able to complete the job in half that time, or less. Lots of people get paid obscene amounts of money for very little "work" but the value of that work is simply that high, and so that's what they're paid for it.

So instead in thinking in terms of hours or work, I tend to want to think in terms of how much time I need to provide value. And the less time that is, the better - for both parties. They get better value for money, and I get more time to dream up better ways of creating value.


I never realized that Robert Owens' quote codifying eight hours of work is from 1817. Good golly.

Our entire industrial mental model of work comes from at least two hundred years ago.


That wasn't an industrial mental model, it was a utopian socialist proposal that took a century and a lot of blood to win.


I mean that the mental model dates from the early Industrial Revolution (I previously thought that it wasn't created until the Gilded Age or the Victorian era), and is overdue to be revised given the rise of white collar work.


It's complicated. I would never want to work for 40 hours/wk (honestly 20 is about my limit) in a hierarchy, but I could easily see myself doing more than that in a partnership.

Yes, you get diminishing returns on work if you're working a lot of hours, but you can still get more done per day even if it's not as efficient. Also, constant immersion in a domain causes acceleration/synergies that you don't get with a more "healthy" work-life balance. That being said I think chasing this is never worth it unless you're getting the same share of the loot as everyone else. (Or if you're the one who's disproportionately set up to benefit from the group's success, but I generally consider that to be immoral)


Yes, why is this still a question? Look at how productivity relates to wages after inflation adjustment. We have all been robbed for decades.


Relative wages have not risen, but standard of life really has. For a week of work at minimum wage, I can buy a lot more cool stuff than anyone from 100 years ago.

Things have gotten so good, that almost everyone has riches beyond the wildest dreams of someone from 1850, it's just that we all have it, so it doesn't feel like we've gotten much more from our productivity.


Well, for the most part you can't compare the minimum wage of 100 years ago since it didn't exist, and subsequently excluded most workers until much later.

In 1966 the federal minimum wage was amended to include most workers, so a comparison at that point can be made.

In 1967 the minimum wage was $1.40, or $10.92 adjusted for inflation. The current minimum wage is $7.25, so in dollar terms the cost of goods, especially housing, really is much higher in minimum wage terms.


What I'm saying is comparing wages is meaningless. If you compare what a month of work gets you in USA, it's astounding compared to what it go you 150 years ago. Imagine buying a beat up car, internet connected computer, cell phone, refrigerator, etc. That's where the productivity growth went: Into better stuff, not into bigger piles of shells.


I don’t disagree that the quality of many goods is much higher, but when you start looking at what the lowest quartile can actually afford to consume the results are pretty starkly worse than they have been in our relatively recent past.

A huge chunk of lower income is dedicated to housing, to an extent that many cannot actually afford housing at all.

The gains of our productivity have been distributed in a most unequal manner.


I think everyone from 1850 would trade their favorite toe to live in the lowest quartile in the western world.

When I lived below poverty line I still had internet, a computer, an apt, access to high quality food and medicine (by 1850 standards), plenty of friends, and a television. I just had to live with 3 other people.


In my stupidity, I've never understood when the 40h, or any X hour per week for that matter, became a requirement per law, instead of an upper limit for health safety.

For example, some different type of roads have different upper speed LIMIT. They also have a minimum required speed. Nobody is forced to drive at the upper limit constantly.

Today is not a good day, I'm having hard time putting my thoughts into words.

Moreover, I think it would be good to shift from hourly salary to daily salary. Whether you work 1h or 50hr in a particular day, it shouldn't matter, you should be paid for the day. We never say my hourly living cost when we talk about living expense, instead we say daily living cost. Which is a better metric in my opinion. One day of work should at least guarentee one day of living cost. This should be a LAW, that every employment (indipendently of hours) should guarentee per LAW the living expenses for a day. It might be hard for some kind of jobs, I understand. But I think we can do better than getting paid hourly.

I live with my parents, so I can save some money. Honeslty, I just need $30 to eat 2 healthy meals and $15 for rent a day. How much hours is that for a Software Engineer, 1-2hrs of work with a lot of extra money. Why should I slave away the rest 6-7hrs? This also helps with my creativity, because I cannot pre-allocate and command my brain to be creative for the allotted time, excatly from 9am to 5pm.


Future of knowledge work [0]:

1. 5-hour work day, not pretending busy work for 8 or even 12 full hours (eg, 996 in China tech corps)

Knowledge work, especially creative work, is just different from hard manual labor. More work hours won’t necessarily produce more value

For some people / jobs, maybe 2-hour work day is enough.

@tobi says it well [1]: "For creative work, you can't cheat. My believe is that there are 5 creative hours in everyone's day. All I ask of people at Shopify is that 4 of those are channeled into the company."

2. One or multiple part-time jobs

For some part-time jobs, you work for money; for others, you work for fun/impact.

See how @gumroad works [2]: No Meetings, No Deadlines, No Full-Time Employees

3. Streaming income in real time, rather than bulk income once or twice per month

You have a stream of small incomes 24/7. Some are passive incomes, while others are active incomes. You get paid directly from customers you serve, not from a proxy (eg HR in big corp). Anytime during the day, you know how much you’ve made so far

---

[0] https://twitter.com/wenbinf/status/1472356359953809409

[1] https://twitter.com/tobi/status/1210242188870930433

[2] https://sahillavingia.com/work


The gumroad approach is very interesting. Do you know if there any other companies that work like that? Caveat is that I do need to be a full-time employee, for visa reasons.

I’m currently at a top-tier tech company which pays very well but wastes an incredible amount of my time on unnecessary overhead. It would be amazing to get my work done in four hours a day and spend the rest of my time on fulfilling projects and relationships.


Reasoned from an employer, the economic optimum consist of two parts:

1) The time you work is spent doing meaningful things.

2) The amount of hours equals the point where if you'd add hours, the negatives outweigh the positives.

In that sense it's bizarre how both parameters don't seem much of a priority. Entire armies of office workers are stuck in zoom meetings and email, seeing most of their day cut up into tiny slices where you can't do focused work. It's quite common to hear that people do about 2 hours of actual work per day.

Rather than obsessing over some ancient number of hours "present", shouldn't effectiveness be an absolute top priority? Not only do managers not seem to care that their employees do little real work, they actually believe that those small blanks in your calendar means you're not busy enough. Have some more meetings. Let's collaborate more!

Here's my "CEO for a day" solution:

A system will for each meeting calculate its cost, which would be the amount of participants multiplied by their hourly rate. Since a 1 hour meeting really costs about 2 hours of productivity (just before and after meetings, nobody does work), the sum would be multiplied by 2, or 1.5 at least.

Once per month or so, you check the aggregates, starting with the worst offenders. It looks like Tom organized about 30K worth of meetings last month. Now Tom is going to tell the company what tangible value he produced in these meetings to offset this.

You'll soon find that it's all power laws. A small group of people responsible for flooding people with meetings.

And you can do the same with email. Efficient workers sent perhaps a handful of emails per day, yet Tom seems to be sending 50-100, all day and night.

Perhaps Tom should shut the fuck up and not mistake his joy in communicating with people for work.


To add my anecdata to the pile, if I "live right"[1] and ignore the pressure to work work work, I naturally have about 6hrs "bum on seat" work time per day, give or take. And that's without a commute. Or kids.

I haven't personally noticed being at the computer for 2hrs less a day causing me to be less productive.

What noticably makes me more productive:

- Not feeling exhausted, depressed, shitty, or feeling like I never have time for anything

- Working bum on seat until I feel like I'm not productive, then taking a break (go for a walk, empty the dishwasher) and let my brain solve the problem for me.

- If I really want to get more done and focus, and I have a clear goal, rounds of pomodoros

[1] get enough sleep; exercise each day; cook healthy meals; spend time with my partner; have time to myself; have time to perform daily chores and errands, etc


Figure Little's law may be a bit applicable to the discussion :)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little%27s_law

You never really want "100% utilization" (something I feel a lot of managers don't quite understand).

The answers here are very interesting. I work more than 40 hrs (my own business stuff) and I always wish there was more time in the day, lol. Never worked at a big company but I do imagine if people are only "working" 20 hrs that's a sign that they could "work-less." IMO as long as stuff gets done (in a timely manner) that's all that should matter.


Usually when there is a question in the title, the answer is no. Not this time. But 35h is also ridiculously too much. It needs to be 20h max, just because households are dual income, and personal work needed to be done did not disappear.


Can relate. I've been splitting household chores 50/50 and there's barely any time to do anythying else.


40 hours is just a handy figure, like eight hours is a third of a day, third you spend on sleeping, third you spend on life, third you spend on work. I believe it was established due to these equal ratios. We kinda all work in manufacturing still, just the goods we manufacture have changed, yet we still spend about equal part of our life on it, probably due to strong tradition. Some are seeing 20 hour "void" in their third, cause really they want to spend 20 more hours on something else.


Too much for whom? For businesses, definitely not too much; if you're awake you could be working. For workers? We worked less when we were hunter-gatherers, and even peasants up to the industrial revolution worked seasonally and thus had an average of 20 hours a week. Now we work 40 hours a week for 44-48 weeks a year. And for what? To pay too much for health care, be stressed out constantly, sit in traffic commuting, and waste away sitting in a chair ruining our eyes staring at screens.


You know I hear this repeated about how people who did substance farming supposedly did less but that just doesn't seem to square with my experiences. Two examples I'll cite are the first is the experience recorded by my great great grandfather, he grew up on a farm in central Utah and when he was 14 years old his dad told him to take the sheep and go up into the mountains and don't come back until it snowed. I guess you could count it different but I think we'd be hard pressed to say that wasn't full time 24/7 work for 3 straight months, then when he got home he would have to work the harvest, repair the fences, etc.

Another more modern example is the Amish, I don't know if you've had a lot of experience with the Amish but they know how to work, they start before sunup and push through to sundown, taking a short break for lunch and then back at it for hours on end, I definitely wouldn't say they average 20 hours a week over the year.

I just see this claim repeated over and over and it feels like it doesn't make sense and is pushed more because those repeating it like it than any substantial basis in reality.


Your great great grandfather from your anecdote worked during/after the Industrial Revolution.

Historical evidence shows that people worked much less than they did during and after the Industrial Revolution[1].

[1] https://groups.csail.mit.edu/mac/users/rauch/worktime/hours_...


Herding sheep didn't change dramatically with Industrial Revolution.


It did, considering much of the pasture lands and commons traditionally used by herders were enclosed, along with economics changing in order for people to afford things like taxes, rents/mortgages, and goods that were once made at home, or by craftsmen, that were now factory-produced and sold via commodity markets. Those economic changes necessitate the creation of surplus value to be sold in markets for money versus doing just enough work for subsistence.

You can see this change with the tenant farmer model. Traditional use of the commons was eliminated by privatization, and farmers then had to rent back smaller plots of land to sustain themselves. Tenant farmers now had rents to pay, so they had to create a surplus of value in order to afford that rent, and could no longer just engage in the subsistence farming they had done in the past, which meant doing more work.


Keynes Predicted We Would Be Working 15-Hour Weeks.

https://www.npr.org/2015/08/13/432122637/keynes-predicted-we...

Keynes is right, we should be at around 15 hours per week right now. It's not even a nostradamus prediction, it should have happened. The division of labour, specialization of production and dexterity, and technology has greatly increased productivity.

The answer is globalization, something Keynes didn't think could happen due to diplomacy of his time. So the 'western' world could be at 15 hour weeks but globalization has kept us up high. As these other countries have developed and are starting to industrialize. Pulling people out of poverty and greatly increasing quality of life has been great. It's making us wealthier than ever. We live in a time of abundance.

Shouldn't it be possible to live a life on fewer hours?


I spend 40 hours at work. Doesn't mean I am productive for all those hours. My productivity may be 20-30 hrs/week between meetings.


40-hours week is more of an artefact from the times when the labour unions were fighting for a normalised work week and fair pay.


They are so cute! Acting like HR cares or can do anything about this. Seriously? They avoid work and controversy like the black plague.


For me, the 40 hour work week is okay but I think the problem at least for development is getting non-technical people to be responsive or provide the necessary input to keep me busy. When I'm support duty for a sprint, I find myself twiddling my thumbs sometimes awaiting a response to a question on a ticket from a user to confirm or get more context for the issue so I can do my work as there's only so much looking at logs, source code, and the like to tease out the cause of the issue.

If anything, I think companies who have more knowledge and process based workers should look to use the free time for learning/studying. Maybe give funds to take courses whether they're online or offline to help such workers (myself included) improve our skill set. I'm not against more free time off for the same pay but I just think there can be more uses of the time than just being off the clock is what I guess I'm saying.


Employee? Sure, aim to get your workweek as close to 0 hours as possible unless you genuinely love what you are doing, then clamp it at 40.

Startup/founder/significant equity holder? Sorry, no -- at least in the first year or three. Working 50 hours a week vs. 40 can be the difference between success and failure in the first few years of a company. I work anywhere between 40 and 60 hours depending on how critical a looming deadline is. No platitudes about "oh you're more productive < 40" are remotely true. My extra effort has translated directly into dodging many snares that would have screwed us hard. I do however place 60 as my soft limit, beyond that I will pay for it hard after a week or two.

Contrary to the cliches that abound around this topic, I am in good shape, healthy, have a rich-enough social life, and am a great dad.


Always need to keep in mind value of work.

Working at Joe Widget Co. and get a tight deadline for a new feature? Value of the work was already low, value of your extra effort is pretty much unknowable, why would anyone work overtime?

Early stage startup its much easier to draw a line straight from work -> value.


Yep, I think this point gets lost in most of these articles.

If someone is used to already working five hours a day and surfing Reddit for another three hours as a "break", then this less than 40 crap sounds like an obvious no-brainer - I can already hear the "but I get my work done in 25 hours for the week!" tripe.

For the rest of us who can work without any distractions for as many hours as necessary, it's silly.


sooooo....is Okta trialing a 30hour work week? Or just writing developer friendly fluff as free advertising?


Personally, I feel that it's too little.

No one is perfectly productive. If you devote 40 hours to something, you're going to spend at least 10-15 hours out of that on non-productive busywork.

There are also some tasks that just require extended periods of focus before something "clicks". No way I could write or code if I was told to pack up and leave after a fixed amount of time.

Also, I've always found that when I'm working hard, I'm more creative in my hobbies as well. I make music as a hobby and whenever I've taken a break from work, the music just doesn't flow.

Caveat: I work for myself so the work is both important and enjoyable to me, and I don't have to deal with office bureaucracies. If I was working for someone else, I might have different views.


Great article on this, advocating for 40+ hours a week of real work:

http://bookofhook.blogspot.com/2013/03/smart-guy-productivit...


The question is with all these trial projects where organisations and even apparently entire countries experimented with shorter working weeks, is that despite the results consistently demonstrating the benefits, why in no case did it stick? (*) How long did it take for the 40-hour week to become almost universally established after the initial trials? I'm definitely in favour of a trend towards a 4 day week (or even a 9 day fortnight), but I don't think I could ever be totally comfortable being the only guy in the office to do so (esp. if I expected to be paid the same amount!).

(*) I'm similarly curious about UBI pilots!


For creative positions I don't see hours/week as a useful metric for anything. Most of my time 'working' is not sitting at my computer typing or whatever.. it's thinking about things while laying in bed while I can't sleep or when sitting on the can or when taking a walk (etc.). Often my subconscious comes up with something while I'm not even thinking about it. So I'm working when playing games or reading as well. Working isn't labor, it isn't something you do. It is all about how much value you create.


I think the most important step towards flexible work hours in the US is decoupling health benefits from employers. Currently these benefits are essentially a flat cost per worker, and an incentive to squeeze the most out of each person.

If the two were decoupled, employees would more easily be able to adjust their work hours to their personal desires. If you want to work 20 hours per half pay, great. If you want to work 60 hours for 50% more, great.

Individual desires and needs very greatly among people, so such a system would allow a wider variety of people too meet their needs


>In the 1800s, it was common for people in manufacturing to work nearly 100 hours per week: between 10- and 16-hour shifts over six-day workweeks. >By the early 1900s, many industries had adopted the eight-hour workday, but most people were still working six days a week.

If these figures are true, it helps me to understand why so many people in the 19th and early 20th century were huge advocates of socialism and communism. Even though, having read about the history of the last 100 or so years, I think that communism is a relatively inefficient and often brutally murderous form of government, even I feel that it might be better to launch a revolution to overthrow the rich and take their stuff than to put up with working so much that there is essentially no time in one's life to do anything other than work, all just to be able to live in some cramped apartment in a dirty industrial city.


Here's what I believe : the fraternizing and huddling around the break room during coffee breaks and distracting leisurely talks with coworkers at their desk, which all contribute to wasted time at the office would still happen in a 30 hour work week.

Except, Workers would be demanding overtime pay to finish the work they have normally been doing in a 40 hour work week and employers would have to pay premium compensation for the same level of work they used to be getting at 40 hours a week.


I find it curious that you point out regular social interaction as a major culprit of lost time here but not the 4 different communication mediums that every workplace uses, or the egregious levels of ritualistic meetings, or the expectation of travel being on employee time, or the lessening of the value of our dollar resulting in multiple people having to work full time jobs in a single household to provide the same as generations ago.

If you don't want people to interact in normal ways, why have a business, would business outcomes not be improved by humans interacting and forming social bonds within their workplace, a place that by current standards, we spend 50% of our awake hours?


I didn't point out meetings because they are required by the company therefore the company deems them valuable enough to consider work time. So it stands to reason those meetings you think are useless will still exist In a 30 hour work week.

As opposed to fraternizing at a person's desk, which is not considered work time. Generally speaking. I'm sure there exists companies that encourage fraternization as part of work but they are definitely the minority.


Shouldn’t it just really be contextual? Sometimes work a lot, sometimes a little. Depending on the project, time to relax and gain clarity, burnout—lots of other variables?


No, but I think it should be 40 hrs including transit, and overhead time; yes I would even include walking around, if it's a large facility. For whatever reason I have to walk pretty far for drinks and bathrooms... so it counts.

It goes with out saying that there's some flexibility for appointments and personal matters. You don't have work extra hours after going to your doctor for cancer (extreme example there are smaller).


Interesting to see such articles, when I heard from some people on HN that it's ok and healthy to have two contracts at the same time. Which one is it then?


Some people have the energy to do two jobs at once even if they don't strictly need the money to survive (like many minimum wage workers do); if they can keep themselves in check, that's a great way to make more money and build up a comfortable life or prepare for an early retirement.

It's not for everyone and it's certainly not the standard. There are also people who work themselves to death and pretend to be fine. I'm sure it _can_ be healthy and fine if that is what you want; it just shouldn't be expected of people.


Different people think different things.


Plus a side project.


"Cut the workweek back to 35 hours"

I feel like that's been the standard in a lot of industries - 9-5 with an hour for lunch - for a long time.


It depends on the type of work. 40 hours of deep work isn't sustainable for too long without breaks and leads to mental health issues.


For something I'm passionate about? No.

For what I'm actually doing? Yes.


I don't think businesses benefit from a 4 day work week but who cares, I don't think they benefit necessarily from a weekend either and we still do it.


>HR should define the perfect workweek

wot?

>HR professionals must carry the torch for this issue.

bruv....


Reading the comments it seems like we need a recession. The job market of the last few years is not normal, people's expectations are way too high.


Can you explain more what you mean? I'm unsure where you're making your point from.


Like what is happening at twitter. For a startup working until 1am was pretty normal. Lots of 100 hours weeks. Working a 40 hour week to me seems like slacking. This whole attitude of 4 day weeks, or just a few hours a day seems completely crazy, I dont think it will last.


YES. For our epoch it is. Max 20hrs/week in combination with remote-working should be the future.


It's far more than anyone worked before the industrial revolution who wasn't enslaved. Subsistence farming or hunting and gathering don't take 40 hours a week.

The reason there's a 40 hour workweek is because socialists, anarchists, and communists fought for one. It was marketed as splitting the day into three even parts, and getting weekends off. There's nothing special about it other than it is a round number, and far more work than is necessary to produce enough to support a family, so it offers ample excess for the owners of capital.

The optimal number of hours is the least necessary to have a comfortable life.


>Subsistence farming or hunting and gathering don't take 40 hours a week.

It is extremely interesting to see how people lived in a pre-industrial era. There is a series of videos about long retired german tradesmen, who worked in long dead traditional trades (wheel making, woodcuting and many other very fascinating and obscure ones). I liked it a lot. The consistent theme there is that these people do not have a "work day". There is absolutely no seperation between their private life and what they do for work. Of course they are not doing high intensity work for 16 hours a day, but they are going through a wide varity of different activities, some leisure ones like eating with their families, but a lot of it directly or indirectly related to their work. How much and when they work can be dependent on a varity of factors, but their work is completely integrated into their lives.

One thing I really dislike about a 40h work week as a person living further in the north is that in the winter it is dark when I return. The sun rises at around 7:30, long after I need to wake up.


> Subsistence farming or hunting and gathering don't take 40 hours a week.

Also people had tons of holidays during the middle age in Europe.

Crazy working hours peaked during the industrial revolution when workers had life expectations reaching minimums of 20 years.

Not to mention that in many places men were working and women were homemakers some 70 years ago. Now that everybody works we spend our evening and weekends doing chores and housekeeping. (And no, I'm not saying we should go back to 1950!)


For those of us in university, 40 hours a week is laughable. Especially since I work while in school


Yes, 40 hours is too much. 16 is perfect. Tuesday and Wednesday please, working from home of course.


This is an easy question for a bunch of people who are supposed to be writing code right now.


I have more of a problem with companies trying to compress 80hours of work in 40hours.


Having dummies in charge is too much. Why do we need to dance around discussing work from home, 40 hours, wages, etc.

Just address the root problem.


The real question is how can I short okta.. Some person or group in this company was paid to do this..


actually found it (Nasdaq: OKTA)..

The company lost an insane amount of money each quarter (-46% margin).. The are worth almost 8 billion, 1.3 billion in revenue to net -850m in revenue..

If it wasn't for their balance sheet (pretty strong) and gamble short this crap.. I might still, im gonna wait a few months for the woke communists in the org to drain money then short..

I'm almost 100% certain these people are gonna drain the balance sheet whilst their revenue gonna collapse next year.


Elon says too little


It is too much


Yes


yes


tl;dr

Yes


If you want to find the optimal number look at how many hours startup founders put in. Incentives are 100% aligned in how they benefit from their work. They have no incentive to work less or more than the optimal number of hours.


There's nothing magical about startup founders, nor anything to suggest they're any better about figuring out the right number of hours to work than the rest of the world.

Nor are their incentives necessarily aligned properly - if you assume a startup founder is trying to start a business that will make them wealthy, then they may be operating under the assumption that more hours now == fewer later. So a founder may happily push themselves to pull 80 hour weeks thinking that a few years of that pace will pay off so they can coast later.

Most startups fail, and I'd imagine most founders ultimately wind up working for other people. So they'll never get back that additional time + they'll have to keep putting in hours on someone else's behalf.


> Incentives are 100% aligned in how they benefit from their work.

Exactly. The reason the rank and file don't put that kind of time is they aren't given nearly as generous terms.

This isn't really a discussion of what people can do, people can do much more than they are in general, but instead the problem is how much of the fruits of the effort is willing to be shared.


They're also solving a somewhat different problem, namely "make it to the next funding round without thinking more than a year into the future". A company which already has solid funding may well have plans on the multi-year timeframe, and should probably try to avoid burning out its people.


There is a point here but it doesn't actually matter that much in my opinion. Your point is if you're invested in your work there is no limit to how many hours you put in. I'd tend to agree with this saccharin made-for-TED description.

If I am paid $10/hr for my work I can't eat. My incentives are not aligned. You dont pay me enough to eat.

If I am paid $xxx/hr for my work but I am bound by NDA and non-compete, don't get bonuses in line with product sales (N% of sales go to my check), etc I am not aligned.

The only people "aligned" are the most useless. Sales. Yes, things need to be sold but if the people laboring are not incentivized sales will be useless along with the entire C-suite.

There is no such thing as a "sufficiently incentivized" laborer unless you're paying them a chunk of sales (see: a co-op). Hence why anti-work is such a popular concept even among the highest paid cohorts. Even as developers, we are being robbed blind and are worth far more than they pay. There's a simple test for this: if you work 20 more hours next week will your check potentially go up significantly? If not, your labor is being stolen from you.


This assumes that 1) they themselves know how many hours of work leads to optimal productivity [1], and 2) there are no external factors that incentivize them to work fewer or more hours for appearances' sake.

[1] If startup founders know their optimal number of hours, why wouldn't regular employees also know this? Why do you think that startup founders have privileged knowledge in this regard?


Hmm feels like the myth of the rational actor, while the incentivized may not be there, individual differences likely are.


Indeed. Not to mention that such assumption ignores the risks for personal health.

Plenty of startups go bankrupt and plenty of founders experience burnout, back pain, RSI etc.

Very few people can work 40+ full hours hunched on a keyboard for 3-4 decades.




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