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The 40-hour week is forever gone in the startup world, and that is simply one of the trade-offs in having moved from a world where big enterprises emphasized long-term relationships with defined pension benefits and health coverage for life to a new world in which such enterprises have faltered and sunk only to be displaced by the startups that disrupted them through technical and other innovations. One can howl at the moon over these developments but 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 for having invented the thing that made the employer hundreds of millions?

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.




an older day where a faithful employee's reward for long-term service was getting a gold watch on retirement or a $10K bonus for having invented the thing that made the employer hundreds of millions

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.


It's simpler to think about the misaligned incentives issue in terms of compensation rather than in job requirements. The issue with many startup jobs is that they underpay relative to their requirements, and get away with it because candidates have a hard time valuing equity grants in unproven and illiquid companies. But this is a market value problem, not a "40 hour work week" problem.


Ignoring the hours argument. If incentives for the founder do not align with the incentives of other people involved in the company there is a completely different problem at hand.


Well, consider it incentive scale. Everyone wants the same thing, but the founder will benefit but an order of magnitude more than most employees. Just because he's there late doesn't mean everyone else should feel obliged to.


Why not just leave for a job at BigCorp?


Personally, I did. I was lucky enough to get a job at a large organisation that is still very interesting and challenging.

Not everyone can be so lucky though- startups are often doing more interesting stuff than large companies, so there's an appeal.


There is nothing wrong with the most fun jobs paying less than the most boring jobs; that's just supply and demand. For similar reasons, jobs at game studios tend to suck a lot.


There is something wrong if they demand that you work more than 40 hours a week though.


That's debatable. Are they paying you for more than 40 hours? If your employer demands you work more than 40 hours per week, that's what the job there will entail. Not much different than the details of their culture or health plan. It's just another thing the employer expects. Like with everything in your career, if this doesn't match up with what you want out of the job, you're working at the wrong place.

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.


> 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 for having invented the thing that made the employer hundreds of millions?

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.


Hi Grellas, I feel honored by your comment on my submission. :-)

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.


There's an exception to the 40 hour week called comp time. You get paid for excess hours by being given paid time off.

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.


>>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.


Please speak for yourself. I don't procrastinate. Most days I don't even check my personal email at work. Maybe I should, because despite not procrastinating I'm still pretty much forced to be 50 or 60 hours a week in the office.


At the same time, we require an inordinate amount of "back of mind" processing time in order to perform so much problem solving.

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.


Well, the article quotes research saying that knowledge workers only have six good hours in them. They need to fill the rest of the time somehow to not go insane.


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.

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.


That's really not true. It's very easy to stumble into a credible claim from an employee that they've been reclassified as overtime-eligible. One easy way to do it is to discipline a team member, or the whole team, by docking pay for coming in late.


The only exempt jobs are in management, and in very well-paid programming jobs. I don't know the amount, but I imagine it's six figures or nearly that. Sysadmins and programmers who don't get overtime are having their wages stolen, basically. Unfortunately, the amount of ignorance (or denial) about this is widespread, so many people have accepted that they will work past 40 hours and not get paid for it.


>> Sysadmins and programmers who don't get overtime are having their wages stolen, basically

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.


Federal law has no salary requirements at all for exempting programmers. California law adds one, at $81,000/year -- which is simply not that much in Silicon Valley terms!


It could be a collective action problem. Everybody would be better off if everyone were limited to 40 hour weeks, but nobody wants to take the hit in perception that would result from adopting one on their own.


It's probably not the case that everyone would be better off if work weeks were limited to 40 hours because of the administrative costs of ensuring 40 hour weeks. A statutory 40 hour week works when everyone comes into work at the same time, or when people punch clocks. It's much harder for knowledge workers who drop in and out of "flow" at semi-random times.


To be clear, you're not arguing against the thesis of the argument, correct?


> ... when people punch clocks.

If I ever run a technology company, the engineers will punch clocks. If they work too long, their pay will be docked.[1] 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.


And this is the top ranking comment ? Proof that hacker new is seriously loosing its shit. (Mayb we should call it startup news ?)

Come one, go learn some history. At least the article's writer did know some (a lot)


>The 40-hour week is forever gone in the startup world, and that is simply one of the trade-offs in having moved from a world where big enterprises emphasized long-term relationships with defined pension benefits and health coverage for life to a new world in which such enterprises have faltered and sunk only to be displaced by the startups that disrupted them through technical and other innovations. One can howl at the moon over these developments but 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 for having invented the thing that made the employer hundreds of millions?

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?"

Hell, yeah.




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