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?"