On a technical legal note, U.S. overtime laws have long since institutionalized the 40-hour week for non-exempt (generally lower skilled) employees and that remains the overwhelming norm in the economy. In that sense, there is no need to "bring back" the 40-hour week. It never went away.
If, as the author seems to espouse, the goal is to impose a strict weekly limit on the higher-skilled employees as well (in the case of Silicon Valley, tech professionals), it takes laws to do that and laws restrict freedom. Granted that efficiency studies might cause some employers to adopt strict hourly limits as a matter of company policy, or that individual lifestyle choices might cause a given employee to run in horror from the idea of slave-like work hours, do tech professionals really want to be prohibited from making such choices for themselves? It is one thing to say that laws are needed to protect those who cannot protect themselves. It is quite another to impose the force of law on what really is a lifestyle choice to be made by those who are equipped and smart enough to make it for themselves. Trying to "bring back" the 40-hour week from this perspective is, in my view, a very bad idea that would seriously harm the tech-driven companies that populate the startup world.
You think startups are any different? Unless you are one of the very first employees in a startup that is massively successful, you're not going to benefit financially compared to a job at BigCorp. In fact, the loss of higher salary, bonuses and benefits mean that startup employees are often working longer and getting less in return.
It's time to get rid of the culture where you have to stay in the office as long as the founder does- his incentives are totally different. A 40 hour week sounds great to me, but it requires a cultural change, not a legal one.
Not everyone can be so lucky though- startups are often doing more interesting stuff than large companies, so there's an appeal.
If my employer demanded a tie and I didn't want to dress that fancy, then there's a disconnect between their expectations and mine. We don't fit together well. Some people will like working 50, 60, even 80 hours per week. Some won't. The people who should be employed there are the ones who like what that company has to offer them as the whole package.
Depends. Do you value the worth of your activity purely by personal income gained and count every minute in dollars? (Ah, you're a lawyer. Ignore that question.) In many of the cases we're talking about, the faithful employee's long-term reward is achieving things they could never have attained on their own.
> it takes laws to do that and laws restrict freedom.
Yes, the freedom to abuse employees, in this case. Restrict away.
> do tech professionals really want to be prohibited from making such choices for themselves?
Painting this as a choice is wholly disingenuous. If "the 40hr week is forever gone", in what sense is it a choice to work those hours?
> Trying to "bring back" the 40-hour week from this perspective is, in my view, a very bad idea that would seriously harm the tech-driven companies that populate the startup world.
This scaremongering is, in my view, yet more of the short-sighted knee-jerk sky-will-fall nonsense employers always trot out when employee rights are discussed. Which is a) never borne out by the results when the rights are enforced and b) why they have to be enforced.
I personally didn't read "force of law" into the viewpoint of the author. However, I can see how it could be read that way, and certainly that would be one action item that could be drawn from the essay.
What I did read out of the essay was an interesting approach to maximizing productivity, which runs counter to an initial assumption. I see a lot of glorification of super-long weeks around HN (some people thrive on them, it seems), and I think that a counter perspective is useful; if the studies are born out, it's even a productivity hack, as one might call it.
Anyway, I do totally agree that legislating 40-hour work weeks would be a disaster. It'd really ruin the freedom we have in the US to really go deep when we need to.
The 40 hour week is already legislated. If you work over 40 you are supposed to get overtime. Overtime needs to be requested, though - that's an important point. If you're going over 40 you're supposed to tell your boss to get permission, and the boss is supposed to say, "nah, go home."
I know it doesn't work that way.
Its because as programmers we never work 40 hours productively. Quite a but of our time goes in procrastinating, reading stuff on sites like HN, Facebooking etc. There fore there is almost an untold understanding that 40 hours is not to be taken literally.
In other words, "the code's compiling" explanation for idling covers the linking up of modules in the code and in our brains' mental models of it.
Except there are now so many exemptions that most of the white-collar working population is "salaried-exempt", and basically subject to no labor protections at all.
When I worked at the call center, 9 hours a day was pretty standard and I hardly ever remember working overtime. Its rare enough in that industry. But the whole point is the corporation expects bang for the buck when it comes to this. No procrastination, No Facebooking etc distractions. Heck you don't even get time to procrastinate, the calls just keep coming. Apart from the 30 min lunch and two 15 min drink breaks you generally don't take any time off. So you essentially work only ( 8 x 5 ) or 40 hours a week.
Coupled with unconventional working hours. Mine was the US shift, which in Bangalore was 1 AM in the night to 10 AM in the morning. I would come back, sleep till 5 in the evening and then learn programming till 12 in the night. Those were the most productive times in my life. Where I worked a full time job, did my engineering and learned a lot of stuff.
You also get amazing stuff done. Nearly everybody is as equally productive, the difference is in quality when it comes down to performance measurements. The problem is the programming world is plagued by procrastination problems and its difficult to fit everything into the 40 hour model. Because no one in real serious sense works 40 hours religiously.
If I ever run a technology company, the engineers will punch clocks. If they work too long, their pay will be docked. The clock punch machine will lock out the IT systems for an employee who is clocked out.
1. I'm paying for the beginner's mind and flow. Somebody sabotage's that, they get invoiced the same as breaking the coffeemaker on purpose.
Come one, go learn some history. At least the article's writer did know some (a lot)
No, today's reality of burning out and getting the short end of the stick when the startup you worked for folds (as statistically most of them do) is much better.
You write as if startups have replaced big corporations. In fact, startups employ an insignificant number of people compared to big corporations -- and most startups just crash and burn instead of being bought for a nice sum or turning into a regular company. So the payoff is there only for a tiny minority of startup employees (and mostly, founders).
So, to rephrase your question: "is it really desirable to revert to an older day where a faithful employee's reward for long-term service was getting a gold watch on retirement or a $10K bonus, compared to the current startup reality, in which employees are worked to the bone while rarely seeing anything for it in the vast majority of cases when the company crashes or even get shafted if the company makes it big?"
I am a front-end engineer in my early twenties. Right now, 40+ hours a week is doable and I am paid well, but I don't need all of the money I'm earning. I would gladly take a 50% salary cut and work ~20 hours a week.
The only problem with this is that I feel like this is a risky thing to bring up with an employer. Has anyone ever had any success getting a good part-time job or downsizing your position at a company? Every listing for part-time I see seems to be for someone with a lesser skillset.
- Your advancement and promotion chances are basically zero in such a position. Not due to some conspiracy, but just because you're not around for half of the conversations people are having about the direction of the product/team.
- If it isn't standard practice for the whole team, they all start to slightly hate you, no matter the pay difference. Need drewb's input? Oh, it's Tuesday; that will have to wait until Thursday when special-boy is back in the office. I've seen this over and over (including on my own teams) with people who had been granted special work accommodations, and there's nothing you can really do about it, even as a manager.
If you want more time to yourself, I would much more highly recommend attempting to negotiate regular unpaid leaves of absence for a couple of months. Travel the world; really unplug from work; etc. It's both easier to fit into your career and your company's plans.
Or just go into consulting and only take n-month contracts that fit your lifestyle needs.
Unfortunately if you are working from home, you might be building mountains. But no one is seeing you do it, what that generally means is unless you announce explicitly what you are doing people think you are doing nothing.
Contrary to whatever one thinks and the truth is. Perceptions matter a lot more than the reality.
I don't announce anything unless you count commits and issue tracker updates. I am being paid for my work. Those who pay me give me the requirements and know it very well what is being done. Well, since they are paying for it and want it done, how can they not know what is being done?
If only the world worked on facts, and not perceptions...
I posit that "this" is one of those annoying problems of working. If you don't make sure you communicate your success, you won't be successful. People who don't celebrate, share and broadcast their success usually aren't successful. Even when they are in the office 100% of the time.
The second aspect of software development is that a developer working 40 hours a week is more productive than two developers working 20 hours a week. With the sole developer, there less communication overhead, less management overhead, and the ratio of productive time to time learning the system and understanding the interlocking parts is higher. This is the classic mythical man month problem.
The third aspect of software development is that directly measuring output and effort of an engineer is very difficult. So as a proxy, managers look for signs of passion and engagement. If you are passionate and smart, but are slow to implement some feature, management will believe the feature was simply more difficult than anticipated. If you generally are not passionate about your work, and are slow to implement some feature, management will think you are slacking and fire you. Creating an effective company requires creating a culture of passion and hardwork, and having one person only work part-time can decrease the morale of those putting in 40+ hours. Asking to only work half-time betrays a lack of passion, and could be a bad career move.
So the net result of these factors is that a company must work at maximum efficiency, and maximum efficiency comes when all developers are working 40+ hours a week. It is not in the company's interest to let you work only 20 hours a week, and it could indeed be risky if you bring the idea up with management.
I should also note that the above dynamic is not just the case in software, but in virtually all high paying jobs, from professional athlete to corporate lawyer to corporate executive. Virtually all high paying jobs have some sort of competitive, winner take all dynamic in the market at large (the winners being the ones who get paid well), and within the company, the high paid people are the ones with specialized, hard to replace skills, that have a large ramp up time to learn effectively (learning a large code base, learning a set of legal traditions, learning how to hit a curveball, etc, etc). Thus in order to earn the high pay you must work long hours, and you must work many productive hours on top of a base of ramping-up hours.
For some reason, taking a year off to travel, volunteer, or experience the world isn't looked at in the same negative career light that wanting to only work part-time is, particularly if you have demonstrable successes at your last employer. It shows passion, engagement, and the ability to take responsibility for your own life, and many employers assume that will transfer over to your job performance at your next job. You're at a slight disadvantage in salary negotiations because they don't have to lure you away from your existing job, but you can make up for this by applying to many jobs (ideally through connections) at once.
I've heard it's also better on the "life" side of things as well, as you can throw your whole being into whatever you experience in your free time, and not just settle for the scraps you can fit around your job.
I took about a year off to explore alternative careers and personal pursuits after working at a tech firm for 3 years. I returned to the industry and was recruited within a few months back into a spinoff from my original firm.
Of course, this presupposes that you maintain your skills, and that you don't burn any bridges when you leave.
An actual 40 hour a week programmer is an awful asset, if we do more than ~20 hours of work a week the rest is bad code and the shit we are to tired of thinking about to fix/automate. The ones who work 50+ hours have forgotten that things can be automated or even pondered before diving in, or that are powerless to fix the accumulating breakage of their group/project/company.
That being said, a 20 hour a week engineer who is partying the remainder probably isn't great either.
I currently work 3 days a week, but I spend about half of the remainder studying things that interest me, mostly in CS or physical sciences. A few years back, I worked 2.5 days in tech support, while finishing up my BS.
I would say live and breathe it while you are there, you should be senior/mature enough that you don't require mentoring/sponsoring to do your job, be a bit humble about your immediate "importance" and handle those longer term pains, and have a nice (but unapologetic) explanation for how you spend your other time.
If overall I spend less than 25-30 hours a week thinking about the field then expect to gradually feel rusty. But then CS is not a good field to mentally slow down in.
Office as we know it, is more than a workplace for an individual. Its a place where people meet together to collaborate with each other. Its also a social network where people eat lunch, drink coffee and talk about life, and such stuff together. If you are not there 50% of the time, unfortunately I don't see how you will fit in with everybody else. Nobody likes calling and discussing things over phone/chat/email what could easily be discussed by meeting at ones cubicle and talking over it for 5 minutes.
Coding might be your 20 hour job, but the other 20 hours is many other things apart from coding. And trust me that is equally important for your career progression.
At least, you're wrong in stating your opinion so forcefully in the second two paragraphs after a (to me) flippant caveat in the first.
The important question isn't whether there're 10% scenarios where company cultures are actually meritocratic, but how much the proportion changes over time.
I'll submit my anecdotal evidence that it is growing. And my career continues to grow. In fact, I would say that the work culture at my company is why my career progression has grown. I'm invested and happy with my situation and therefore work smarter by not overextending myself in the ambition of being there at least 50% of the time just to be there so I can fit in.
In fact, I work remote most of the time and so do I good portion of my colleagues.
That is the reason why working remote is helping you. Since most of your colleagues are working remotely too.
In Rome, behave like a Roman.
I'd submit that remote work is neither helping me nor hurting me. Because the company culture recognizes the value of intrinsically motivated employees, we ensure that employees are happy. Working remote is one of the manifestations of that focus.
Specifically, working remote is orthogonal to my success in my career specifically but fundamental to my happiness and willingness to work towards a successful career in the first place. Does that clarify where I'm coming from?
I am not there 100% of the time and I fit just fine.
> Nobody likes calling and discussing things over phone/chat/email what could easily be discussed by meeting at ones cubicle and talking over it for 5 minutes.
I like email, wiki, IM and issue trackers. Gather your damn thoughts and put then in writing. Dropping by in-person or skype calls are for stage setting. And what makes you think I like being interrupted by someone for something that can be said in the IM?
Oh, and it wasn't any different when I was holding a day job.
Of course since you are a hacker yourself so you are likely to be open to such a environment which you yourself like working in. But I'm talking of a general corporate job kind of a scenario where a lot of people work together in collaboration. Things go a lot smoothly when every one works together, of course they can go smooth either way too. Provided everyone co operates, especially the managers.
I am unsure that this is true in all circumstances.
So the net result of these factors is that a company must work at maximum efficiency, and maximum efficiency comes when all developers are working 40+ hours a week.
I know for a fact that this isn't always true - since I've repeatedly seen teams of developers doing 45+ hour weeks become more productive by every metric we had to hand by dropping their working week to 40 hours (with only about 6 hours a day of that being coding).
I talk about this in a little bit more over here before (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3883362)... copy/paste below.
There is something deeply broken about equating hours to productivity.
It's been my experience that folk are very good at deceiving themselves about their productivity (myself included :-)
One team I worked with had a serious problem with overtime. They were putting in stupid hours and it was showing in the quality of work going out. So I ran an experiment where we all agreed to work "normal" hours for six weeks.
I was "only" working about 45 hours a week at this point, when other people on the team were regularly working 50-60. I was relatively young, didn't have any family pressure, enjoyed my work and felt very productive doing those hours. I wasn't one of the people with a "problem" as I saw it. We were running the experiment for the other folk on the team.
In the experiment we dropped to a 40 hours week (6 hours coding per day, 2 hours for breaks, meetings & lunch). After a couple of weeks adjustment my productivity went way up. I also felt a lot better in myself - generally sharper and more on the ball.
People seem to have quite a wide bad of "this feels okay" that subsumes the much narrower "I'm performing at my best".
Also people don't jump from a 35 hour week to 60 hours a week. It creeps up a few minutes at a time as pressure increases on the team. People have enough time to adjust to it being "normal" and don't notice the drop in productivity that goes with it.
Currently I work roughly 25-30 hours a week and am just as productive by all metrics that I have available to me as when I worked 40-50.
I would strongly urge people to experiment. Pick some metrics, try working shorter hours for a month, see what happens.
(The only caveat I would add is that with folks doing silly hours - anything over 50 I would say - there is often a couple of weeks where things go to hell as the body adjusts. On the team from the story practically everybody caught a bug and felt crap for the first week or so before productivity rose again).
The real productivity killer, for me, is driving a lot. That really sucks it out of me. Face-time too. I could do a few meetings a day, but that's it.
Eventually the company went out of business, but I had great success with working part time.
I've been looking into jobs that work few hours but are highly qualified and they're usually outside consultants that get called in a couple of days a week. Apart from them there was one person who worked in a refinery that only had to be at work 20ish hours a week. She spent most of the rest at home on call or simply working from home. I recall that she enjoyed it.
I've never been able to get up after a day of work and do something. I'm just done after working for 8 hours. I'd just sit and do nothing wait to recover "energy" and as soon as I recover back to normal work starts again.
6 hours without reddit, hacker news, meetings, and other distractions, beats 9 hours with those things (as long as you're working on the right thing and not throwing away ALL your time :-)
Before you brush this off what you're talking about is a very tenuous relationship with your employer that isn't providing you any stability, AND more than likely you'll loose your benefits. Those are the same things you'd be giving up if you went freelance so there is little downside to freelance vs part time.
I'm definitely going to do something like this in the future though, but I'm still contemplating whether the 20-hour, 50% salary cut idea is better than working full time and taking a sabbatical afterwards.
Depends on your situation, and it can't hurt to bring it up. Maybe try winding down your hours progressively.
For me, I'm happy that I invested my time into myself, rather than investing money into some mutual funds or something. Very happy.
20 hour work weeks don't usually lead to more life experiences, in my experience. You just have more time to focus on side-projects or hobbies. You'll still be 'working' 40+ hour weeks, but dividing your time between different projects.
As someone commented before, if he wanted experiences, then he should take a few months of unpaid leave of absence, and go exploring the world.
Um, right, by focusing on side-projects and hobbies, you get more life experiences is the idea. Certainly you get more diverse life experiences.
Between now and achieving that 4%, focus on excelling at the things you find the most interesting and building relationships in your industry so that once you cross the freedom line you can take on the occasional consulting gig to keep things interesting.
(I'm pushing 40 now and sincerely wish I had done the above when starting out in my twenties)
The national debt is only 100 billion dollars, and is there primarily to ensure smooth trading with our trading partners. (It was roughly doubled due to liquidity measures in 2008, but supposedly some smart bond trading ensures that this won't have any dramatic effect with regards to making or losing money).
Famous last words...
Also, some historical data from the S&P 500:
Focus-wise maybe not.
Once, at a contract gig, I was offered to work "flexible hours" which meant 16-32 hours a week. That was after putting in 12 months of 40-45 hours a week, essentially proving that I was good, reliable, etc. So it could happen, by switching to hourly pay, and/or becoming a contractor, working for people who already know you. And as theabraham notes, this may result in losing benefits.
I've had a couple jobs where I've done 32 or 36 hour weeks in the past as well.
But I also have a strong reputation in my field so I'm able to leverage a bit of personal branding ("I'll get more done in 32 hours than anyone else you can hire for 40.")
That may be a tough sell for you at this point. But as others have pointed out, contracting may be a good fit for you if you want to work less. My advice if you go this route is to come up with the highest hourly rate you think you can ask for, then ask for at least 25% more (in the US I'd suggest asking for at least $75 per hour even if you don't have much experience).
I made a project for an eCommerce company a few years ago and then left but always kept in touch with people there. I changed jobs and took a remote position working for a US based company here from Brazil so my working hours were 12-9PM due to the timezone difference so I had free mornings.
After a couple of months the first company (eCommerce) made me a proposal for a full time job that I didn't take because it was good working from home at the time. However I said that I could work part time 2-3 hours everyday for them. They took it and it was very good for both of us since I had an extra paycheck (I was earning as much as a full time employee) and they had me working on important stuff with no interruptions since I was there just a little bit everyday and could not be held accountable to day to day things.
I stayed like that for the past 3 years when I went working for them full time because I got tired of working remotely for a company that wasn't really in a remote-work-culture.
Developers are easy to find. Good developers are not. Bottom line is, if your value proposition to the company is good I cannot see why they wouldn't accept you working part time there. If it's good from the business perspective and you can demonstrate that to them it's pretty much a cost-benefit decision and not an emotionally one.
If you are really into it and wanna give it a try (obviously with some risks) you could say: "Shall we try for a month and see what happens?". After the first month there is not going back ;)
Imho a coder is more productive if he focus 4 hours a day, then if he procrastinates 10 hours.
This is probably a fringe case - and I do not recommend you pursue it unless you are in excellent standing with your manager and are not currently overloaded with responsibility. This type of transition doesn't work if many people are solely dependent on you - which may give you something to work towards - others cross trained directly in your task - so you can have time away without impact to the company.
I think you'll have better luck with tiny companies that can be more flexible, and also tend to be more starved for engineering skill. But YMMV.
If you can find yourself a good non-standard situation that works well for you (and your future) take it!
Even on five days a week though, I was working less than 40 hours. Most people I know work 37.5 hours (if you exclude lunch), and the Working Time Directive places restrictions on the number of hours you can be asked to work if you're in the EU.
However, you can accomplish something similar. If you only want half your salary, work full time for a year while saving half your salary, then fund a year long sabbatical for yourself. If at the end of that sabbatical you've done something interesting (created a new open source project, bootstrapped a business), then applying for a job at the end of that year will be easy. Rinse/repeat as desired.
(If the US acted like EVERY other non-poor country and had nationalized health insurance, this would be a LOT easier).
And they actually probably end up getting quite a bit more out of me than actual 80% time, I end up working longer hours on the days I do work than I used to, but not so long that I'm working as much as I used to, and it's worth it to me to get a 3 day weekend every week.
No. Average worker productivity has skyrocketed since 1980 with the introduction of computers and automation technology. Salaries have remained flat. A 20 hour work week with the same salary would be far more reasonable (though still very far off the mark of paying employees according to the value that they produce).
Simply because a tool makes you more productive does not make the job more valuable. What it does is make it so whom you work for is more competitive. This is usually reflected in price drops. This in turn means more people have access to the products and services.
So, people are benefiting from their increased productivity, whether by their own hands or automation and computers. Look back thirty years ago, how many people have big screen televisions and powerful computers at home? See, its not a one sided equation as your view implies.
The rewards of this increase in productivity can be as simple as once were outlandish luxury items now being found in every household. Look back a generation and see what they had. Would you live like that and give up what you have now? I remember not having air conditioning until my parents built a new home in the late seventies. Having one TV because they were damn expensive. I remember our first PC. The fact these are everywhere are as a result of the increases in productivity which pushes down prices and increases choice.
Don't measure only one side.
Employees aren't really compensated for increases in output that are achieved through standard business practices, technology, automation, etc.
That's because their relative input remains the same.
Same input, same salaries.
If I'm starting a business mass-producing widgets and I fund the machinery, process development, and software to produce that -- why should I pay extra for the employee who really only has to push the big red button to start the machines going every morning?
Just because a lot of value is produced when he pushes that red button doesn't mean that he should be highly compensated.
Its rare for there to be some kind of CEO mastermind that builds everything from scratch on day one. More than likely you started small and your staff built these systems. They came up with the ideas, managed the projects, etc. Their input and ideas created that efficiency.
> he pushes that red button
I think you're taking your manufacturing analogy too far. We're talking skilled labor here, even then you could just have wrote "when my nerd programmers type on their keyboards" and been just as wrong.
I'm not sure there's any value to this kind of armchair economics.
If we're going to have any value in a forum at all, we need to at least make an effort to read and understand the arguments of posters before posting straw men.
You should push that button yourself in the morning, and save the salary entirely.
Consequences are left as an exercise for the student.
Spreading it around rewards an orthogonal group that did nothing to create the productive output and will siphon off it like a parasite.
Spreading it around is inherently a worse way to decide where value should flow through a society; especially one as culturally diverse (ie, filled with many self-interested constituencies) as here in the US.
[edit: So sad that on a site dedicated to the entrepreneur, arguments that promote entrepreneurship and rewarding good choices and hard work are moderated into the dirt..]
And I don't think you have to give up business or innovation to get it. If your Scandinavian startup becomes the next Mojang, you're still going to be fabulously wealthy, so I don't feel at all disincentivized by the distant possibility that I'll have to fork over a percentage of my hypothetical future millions (I'm certainly not going to move back to Texas just for that). There are more successful companies per capita than you'd expect (certainly more than most American states), and the economy generally still runs on a market basis, there's just a little more sharing of the wealth.
Notice that I mentioned cultural diversity. There is a reason that Scandanavia can manage with a more socialistic government. The gene/meme pool is far less diverse and evolutionarily created reinforcement of good communal practices are already present. A thousand years ago and beyond, if you didn't grok cooperation and thoughtful planning, you starved and died come winter.
Scandanavia is like a petri dish with a thriving germ culture that has had very little exposure to many other competing germ cultures. It's easy to point to that little petri dish and say, "See how well this culture thrives?"
We don't have that luxury in the USA. Here, we deal with many self-interested gene/meme contributors who are more self-interested than community-interested. If we implemented the government and laws of Norway here in the US tomorrow, we would collapse. Too many here would take the free government support as a right and live off of it until the whole system failed.
And you Sir are a prime example. In fact, you do everything you can to spread such memes in the society. The irony of that sentence amuses me.
In the end, though, those little petri dish cultures are not where the action is in the world. One merely needs to look at the last 200 years of innovation and invention to have the overwhelming impression that the USA method for technological and economic progress is to be admired and pursued. It's a damned shame that so many people here are hell bent on taking us backward to a one-size-fits-all European style socialistic government.
As I understand it, your scenario is how unions justify their continued existence.
(If you're not already an American Republican, you really should look into it. trollolol...)
You just hire another shlep who can wake up on time to hit the red button. If you can't find a reliable person to hit the button for you, you do the R&D to automate it.
You're reading an argument that I didn't make.
If you're not already an American Republican
I'm a libertarian. I believe that if all you can do is hit a button then you shouldn't be surprised that no one wants to pay you very much. You also shouldn't be offended when your job is truthfully characterized as "just hitting a big red button in the morning".
My basis was that the button pusher was critical to your business and automation was not feasible, since you would have done that from the beginning. I don't know which economic concept this describes, but the idea is that you are compensating the button pusher based on their absolute, objective value (no pushing, no profit) rather than subjectively (skill-less "schlep").
(though still very far off the mark of paying
employees according to the value that they produce).
I get concerned when I see people celebrate things like weekly hackathons running into the early morning hours, working 60+ hour weeks, etc. Of course it can be needful, but it's also not a sustainable work pace doable for 30-40 years without massive personal issues for the vast majority of people.
And your mental hygiene, there's no way you're going to think about (let alone implement) that idea of yours when you're mentally exhausted.
It argues at length that working more than 40 hours a week reduces your output, then states:
"And it hurts the country, too. For every four Americans working a 50-hour week, every week, there’s one American who should have a full-time job, but doesn’t. Our rampant unemployment problem would vanish overnight if we simply worked the way we’re supposed to by law."
The math they're using there 50 hours x 4 employees = 40 hours x 5 employees is either wrong, or the rest of the article is.
There's a bunch of simplifying that's going on there (overhead per person, etc.), but the basic message is that if companies can only afford so many people-hours, it's hurting the people they don't hire in addition to their own employees.
Some jobs always have more shit to shovel, be it actual shit or feature creep. And some people will always expect you to shovel more next quarter/year.
Over here if an employer forced one employee to work more than 38 hours a single week, they could be fined up to $6,600. Firing a worker for not working more than that would be unfair dismissal and attract more fines, prosecution etc...
There are provisions for reasonable overtime, but cleaning desks wouldn't fall into that unless it was some kind of emergency... And the employee can work overtime if they want (and are paid for it or get time-in-leiu) but they can't be expected to.
The best ways to gain leverage over employers that I can think of, short of unionizing or passing broad regulation: free basic healthcare coverage provided by the government to all, and a strong economy. An ability to leave your job without fear that if you get sick you will die/bankrupt will do wonders. An ability to leave your job because the demand for labor outstrips supply will make employers compete by offering better perks, compensation, benefits, work environments, etc (already the case in high tech).
>If you work in the computer industry and do not fall into any of the exemption categories: administrative, professional, executive or the computer software exemption, you may be entitled to overtime pay.
Generally non-exempt employees are entitled to overtime and exempt are not. I believe most software/IT professionals hired full time in CA are exempt employees.
(b) The exemption provided in subdivision (a) does not apply to an
employee if any of the following apply:
(1) The employee is a trainee or employee in an entry-level
position who is learning to become proficient in the theoretical and
practical application of highly specialized information to computer
systems analysis, programming, and software engineering.
(2) The employee is in a computer-related occupation but has not
attained the level of skill and expertise necessary to work
independently and without close supervision.
(3) The employee is engaged in the operation of computers or in
the manufacture, repair, or maintenance of computer hardware and
(4) The employee is an engineer, drafter, machinist, or other
professional whose work is highly dependent upon or facilitated by
the use of computers and computer software programs and who is
skilled in computer-aided design software, including CAD/CAM, but who
is not engaged in computer systems analysis, programming, or any
other similarly skilled computer-related occupation.
(5) The employee is a writer engaged in writing material,
including box labels, product descriptions, documentation,
promotional material, setup and installation instructions, and other
similar written information, either for print or for onscreen media
or who writes or provides content material intended to be read by
customers, subscribers, or visitors to computer-related media such as
the World Wide Web or CD-ROMs.
(6) The employee is engaged in any of the activities set forth in
subdivision (a) for the purpose of creating imagery for effects used
in the motion picture, television, or theatrical industry.
FWIW, exempt/non-exempt status has everything to do with what you do and not what you were "hired as" or if you're salaried or not (salaried non-exempt is possible).
It is possible to get exceptions to this law, but no exceptions are possible on an individual basis - they must be negotiated across whole groups of employees by a labor organization. Such agreements allow certain groups of workers to 80 and 90-hour weeks, but the conditions and payment are very strictly negotiated. Another exception is for owners and founders.
Consequently, overtime is only used where strictly necessary. I think this is an excellent system to protect the rights of laborers.
The true productivity benefit from going into business for yourself is not that you can put in more effort. The human capacity for productive work is not that flexible, because we are not machines. The real multiplier is that you can direct your effort at that which truly matters. Most businesses spend 10% of their budget on 90% of their value. If you can work smarter you can get dramatically more done because you are building that which truly matters. That is where the PG article is right.
But, here's the problem with what I'm saying: people working crazy hours succeed. Everyone can see that. How can that be explained? In my opinion, those people succeed despite those hours, not because of them. It is their laser-like focus on reaching a goal that makes them succeed, but it is also this focus which makes them put in more hours thinking it brings success home sooner. It don't think it does, but it's almost impossible to prove it doesn't because there just aren't many places where highly passionate and focused people stick religiously to a 40 hour work schedule.
You can't simply put typical workers on a schedule that's twice as long and expect more productivity, that's true. Individually, though, you can normally become extraordinarily more productive if you have the right motivation.
people working crazy hours succeed.
Why is this such a mystery? Haven't you ever thrown yourselves into a new startup or idea and spent every waking hour on it for long periods of time because you were excited by what you were doing and it didn't feel like you were working? Haven't you ever gone to sleep thinking about your ideas, and jumped out of bed right away the next morning like a kid on Christmas and then worked on those ideas, barely wanting to take time to eat, at last breaking away from what you're working on late at night because you know you need to get some sleep?
Maybe it's a gene that allows some people to go into that mode. Maybe it's just a matter of finding the right motivation. Regardless, it appears that people who don't experience it can't understand it any more than blind people can really appreciate colors.
I then had to spend the next several days fixing all the damn bugs I'd put in because I wasn't thinking straight.
But this doesn't mean I push what works for me onto the people I work with. It works for me, so I do it. What also works for me is when I feel like not working I leave. When you put in lots of hours, you tend to get those types of freedoms; which I enjoy greatly.
Some people at the company I work at do work quite a bit more, but this is actually discouraged by the company (it counts as time in-leiu so they can take that time off later). This seems a massive contrast to the US where articles like this make it seem like people work far longer hours to make it look like they're a harder worker. Does that really happen?
Take a support staff for example. What do you measure? How many calls they make? That incentivizes making lots of short calls. How many notes about clients calls they made? That incentivizes leaving lots of minimum length notes. Am I a worse support staff member if I leave longer notes and make longer calls? How do you accurately measure the "results" of a support staff? By customer retention? Good luck correlating individual client retention to specific support staff when customers talk to many different employees during a sales or support process.
Once you get past people who create objective value for the company, measurements are difficult to impossible. Measuring against an arbitrary standard is worse than doing nothing because it demotivates employees who aren't as high up on your arbitrary standard. Not everyone at a company has a direct impact on revenue - janitor, accountant, sysadmin, chef, etc.
Yes. One of the pioneers of business, H. James Harrington, said, "“Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.”
Firstly, in practice, measurement is not free. It incurs overheads of various kinds, and there is no guarantee that any benefits ultimately obtained will outweigh those overheads.
Secondly, the series of negatives doesn't logically imply the initial positives.
Thirdly, it is not self-evident that all of those negative implications are actually true, particularly the first.
I suspect many of us have at some point heard the word "This needs to be managed!", but they always seem to come from middle managers whose own contributions are of debatable value and who never seem to have a good answer when the return question is "Why?".
The intentions of bringing more comfort into people's stressful lives are understandable, but by just wishing it and possibly legislating it we are not making anyone richer. The overall effect will be less jobs for low-skilled workers who do not have enough skills to compete on the job market.
The most current data suggests the optimum is actually 60 hours (in construction), and there is little info on knowledge work.
The thought that 40 hours is the local maxima for all persons on the planet in all jobs is frankly ridiculous. There are organisational benefits for averaging this when co-ordination is needed (ie assembly line, construction site) - but this isn't as important when so-called 'knowledge workers' are able to individually work on projects and come together at set points for the vital co-ordination.
Productivity discussions should be about flexibility and the ability for workers to set their own times (both total hours and start/finish times). Not about some type of 20th century union negotiating point.
So expect two shifts of people working 20-29 hours a week. At least unemployment numbers should go down in theory but this is a heck of a loophole.
My wife works in an office in Australia where most people work over 60/hrs a week and she's pressured to work more than 50. If some enthusiastically work over 50hrs, everyone else basically has to stick around as well or they will be evaluated poorly and lose out on advancement.
Do you mean in that particular company? In general, I think that's a myth.
There's several different averages across days, weeks and months that control how much "overtime" you're allowed to work. The max is 200 hours per year though.
It obviously varies, and not everyone follows these laws, especially in (game) development, etc. As long as you the employee agrees to working over time (often uncompensated) none is going to bat an eye. The important thing is that you have a law that will back you up incase your company is trying to force you.
I'm happier, and healthier (I've dropped 30 pounds since moving into the role).
To each their own.
I don't think I could do a single task for 80h/wk productively, but I could certainly do my primary job for 40-60h/wk productively and then spend 20h/wk doing meetings with users, conferences, etc.
Edit: This reminds me of a discussion a friend had with the partner at the white shoe firm where she worked at the time. The partner said "...friends, family, and outside interests are all important. But you have to decide between them and success here." Obviously a paraphrase; this was ~10 years ago.
"... increasing a team’s hours in the office by 50 percent (from 40 to 60 hours) does not result in 50 percent more output (as Henry Ford could have told them). Most modern-day managers assume there will be a direct one-to-one correlation between extra hours and extra output, but they’re almost always wrong about this. In fact, the numbers may typically be something closer to 25-30 percent more work in 50 percent more time."
From about 1/3 down in the "The Overtime Exception" section.
"... research shows that knowledge workers actually have fewer good hours in a day than manual laborers do — on average, about six hours, as opposed to eight."
Motivation to build what you really want to build is completely different from being motivated to work for a salary to avoid starvation and keep your family going.
I imagine it's a lot easier being a doctor who is actually helping individual people squeeze in one more patient, vs. spend overtime filling in paperwork. Same difference between working on an awesome product where you have total visibility into the whole process, vs. beng a cog in a much larger wheel.
I work at a small programming company where gratuitous overtime is the norm as a project closes. By the time things calm down again, we're so stressed out that our productivity probably falls by 50% or more for weeks to come. And the cumulative effect after years of this is even worse. I don't think the boss (also an overworked programmer) has yet to come to appreciate this daunting reality.
What people can do, and what employers are willing to pay for, are two very different things. Employers, by and large, have adopted a strategy of paying employees as little as possible, divorcing their compensation from the value of their work. Capitalism says that employers should receive as little work of as little value as possible in return.
Workers are paid based on supply and demand. If moving a pile of manure from one side of a parking lot to the other will net me $100,000,000, that doesn't mean the laborer I hire to move the manure will share in the value created by moving the manure. This is because the pool of laborers willing and able to do the job is roughly 4 billion people (or more accurately, tens of thousands of people in the immediate vicinity). Competition ensures that a laborer will be willing to move the manure for (roughly $15/hour here in Southern California), regardless of the ultimate value the work produces for me.
On the other hand, if a Steve Jobsian/Jony Ive figure creates a series of industry dominating products from whole cloth, he may get to share in a huge percentage of the value created by those products, simply because there are only a handful of people on the planet capable of creating those products, and thus the employer is willing to pay his $100,000,000 salary.
Like you said, there's nothing about capitalism that says it should do otherwise, but I think for me that shows how unethical capitalism is in how it treats the output of others.
By definition, free trade happens because each side believes they are receiving more value than they are paying. In my example, the manure owner who pays his laborer $15 an hour and the board of directors who pays the Steve Jobsian figure $500,000 an hour both believe that what they get in return is worth more than the money they pay. This is why they enter into the transaction.
>This accumulation of wealth is typically backed by hierarchy and authority structures that maintain that the employer continues to get more value out of someone's work than the employee(s) participating in that work.<
And from the other side, the laborer who exchanges his time for $15 per hour and the Steve Jobsian figure who exchanges his time for $500,000 an hour both "continue to get more value out of" the money the employer is paying them than they would otherwise get out of their other options. Again, this is why they agree to exchange their time for money.
Again, this all boils down to supply and demand (plus value). If there are millions of laborers that can perform any task, the price to perform that task will always be low, no matter how much value the task ultimately generates. (I say plus value because, even if you're the only person in the world that can do something, if nobody wants that thing done (i.e. no value is created) then no one will agree to transact.)
The lack of correlation is primarily due to inability to measure contributions vs. an effort by employers to selectively screw high achieving employees. If you had perfect visibility into the current and future contributions of employees, it actually would make sense to pay the 10x employee 10x more than the 1x employee (and arguably being able to make a team of 5 x 10x employees would be worth way more than the equivalent salaries of 50 regular employees, since a 50 person team would be so large as to have 2-3 layers of management, much higher support costs, etc., so just paying the smaller team 10x as much would be a bargain.)
For a variety of reasons this isn't really done directly with cash compensation (taxes, measurement, supply shortage, envy of other employees, politics with managers, etc.), but rather by the 10x teams being startups which may get purchased.
Although driving may also tap into it, the issue is mental burnout. Cleaning or eating doesn't take mental capacity, thinking does and that is in short supply (as the article notes, study show there's about 6h of good thinking per day in an average individual). Yeah might be able to "productively" work 80h/week if half that was cleaning the toilet... why?
> I could certainly do my primary job for 40-60h/wk productively and then spend 20h/wk doing meetings with users, conferences, etc.
No, you might think you do.
What experiments have you performed to validate this hypothesis?
The recreational activities I seem to seek out in the remaining time, even without any external pressure, are all startup related. I don't know which are considered in scope as "work" vs. "recreation". If I had a choice of watching TV or talking to people about their YC applications, I'd probably do the latter. If I had the choice of reading The Economist or a great startup post-mortem, the latter. Play Battlefield 3 vs. take apart a competitor's product.. Talk to someone about sporting events of the local team vs. talk to someone about what I'm working on...
I've never been able to do 80h/wk on a single task for more than 3 weeks without dramatically worse productivity and burnout, but the mixed time use works fine, at least for me.
I guess I could try working (in the most inclusive definition) for only 40h/wk. I did that for a while when living in a diving location, spending the rest of my time diving, and it didn't feel better; I missed having enough time to do things, but maybe I got more work done per hour.
I've sacrificed too much just to walk away now. Once my code ships though, I'll likely set sail as well.
Startups and the game dev industry are probably a bad choice if you're looking to avoid 40hr+ weeks. Boring SMB software product companies have been bad on this for me (anecdotal, I know) due to misaligned incentives (mainly sales selling product that didn't exist yet.) Consulting has been great on this for me, assuming the folks running the place care about lasting client relationships & quality more than maximizing billable hours.
Do you guys know if this is somewhere documented ...? It would be interesting ...
Let me explain, because I'm not averse to people working hard. I work quite hard as well. By "metered work", I mean the stuff that's requested by bosses and that you're supposed to dedicate your "working time" toward with a singular focus. I include availability (pager duty) as metered work, even if some of that's "down time". Any time you are worrying about bosses or metrics or pagers or status meetings, you're at work.
Metered work obligations should be closer to 20, with the other 20-30+ invested in the stuff we have to do in order to stay relevant: keeping up with new technologies, exploratory side projects, self-directed coding, open source contribution, attending conferences. All of this stuff pays off and is useful work: it just doesn't pay off in the short term or appease a typical manager. 40+ hour metered-work commitments should be reserved for very rare occasions: existential threats to the company, not high-strung middle management.
This would make programming more a real profession, which is what it should be.