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Bring Back the 40-Hour Work Week 969

Posted by Soulskill
from the enjoy-your-friday dept.
Barbara, not Barbie writes with this quote from an article at AlterNet about how the average work week is becoming longer, and why that's not a good thing: "... overtime is only effective over very short sprints. This is because (as Sidney Chapman showed in 1909) daily productivity starts falling off in the second week, and declines rapidly with every successive week as burnout sets in. Without adequate rest, recreation, nutrition, and time off to just be, people get dull and stupid. They can't focus. They spend more time answering e-mail and goofing off than they do working. They make mistakes that they'd never make if they were rested; and fixing those mistakes takes longer because they're fried. Robinson writes that he's seen overworked software teams descend into a negative-progress mode, where they are actually losing ground week over week because they're so mentally exhausted that they're making more errors than they can fix. 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. We will not turn this situation around until we do what our 19th-century ancestors did: confront our bosses, present them with the data, and make them understand that what they are doing amounts to employee abuse — and that abuse is based on assumptions that are directly costing them untold potential profits."
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Bring Back the 40-Hour Work Week

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  • So true (Score:4, Insightful)

    by onyx00 (145532) on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:20AM (#39376959) Homepage

    Mandatory overtime for like the last 3 years - it was fun until they stopped paying for any overtime. Only way I escaped was to work remote to pursue an MBA. And now what do I have to look forward to? Management Consulting or Investment Banking careers that have 60+ hour weeks as the norm.

  • by sheehaje (240093) on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:20AM (#39376961)

    Please... Don't listen to this drivel. I have kids and an angry wife at home. I want to be at work 80 hours a week.

  • Meh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stargoat (658863) * <stargoat@gmail.com> on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:20AM (#39376965) Journal

    We can whine all we want about the 40 hour work week, but no one is willing to unionize in order to get back to it. Can you imagine a white collar middle-management union? People would rather put in 80 hours as an "assistant manager" at McBurger Queen rather than be classified in their own minds as a worker.

    As for IT, goodness no. It would require a reshaping of the laws that have been created. There are many laws in place that keep IT workers down. The luddites couldn't dare have an intellectual revolution on their plates, after all.

    • Re:Meh (Score:5, Informative)

      by Stargoat (658863) * <stargoat@gmail.com> on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:23AM (#39377019) Journal
    • Re:Meh (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:28AM (#39377109)

      Unionize? What? I make it clear when I start a job that I will not work over 40 hours a week unless it's a once or twice a year occurrence. If an employer doesn't like that then they're free not to hire me. Considering I just landed a new job after noting this in each of my 5 interviews with the company (and all of the other interviews I went on elsewhere which netted me 4 other job offers) it doesn't seem to be much of a problem in my industry.

      There is also the point of getting your work done. I'm efficient and good at what I do. I worked over 300 projects last year and got them done on an average of -3 days of projected deadline. I missed one deadline in the entire year and that was due to external forces. If I can handle that kind of work and push out 99.9% error free stuff, who the fuck cares if I don't work 40+?

      I have worked with plenty of inefficient people who spend a good chunk of their day socializing, taking 1+ hour lunches daily, or who simply aren't all that great at what they do. These are the people who seem to end up "just having to work 40+ hours to get it all done".

      Stop fucking around and do your job and go home. Coupled with clear expectations at the outset we won't need to have articles like this one written.

    • Re:Meh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by elsurexiste (1758620) on Friday March 16, 2012 @12:00PM (#39378627) Journal

      My 2 cents about unions, and why I don't unionise:

      Pros:

      • It's the easiest and most cost-effective way to advance workers' issues. Period.
      • As long as all parties are reasonable, and took Negotiations 101, It Just Works.

      Cons:

      • As soon as someone becomes unreasonable or selfish (either the manager or the union leader), then it's constant conflict time, alienating people.
      • Someone gets power, and power tends to corrupt. No one wants to be a[nother] pawn in someone else's game.
      • This may apply only to Latin America, but unions there usually ally with a political party (for instance, the Socialist Party). That also alienates people.
  • Healthcare (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:20AM (#39376971)

    Until we have a health care system that is not tied to employment, this will never happen. It is MUCH cheaper for an employer to squeeze more hours out of several workers than to higher an additional worker.

    • Re:Healthcare (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mark-t (151149) <markt@@@lynx...bc...ca> on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:57AM (#39377579) Journal

      Health care is no silver bullet in this regard. I live in Canada, which enjoys universal health care, but working more than 40 hours a week is just a regular part of doing business in certain fields.

      I don't mind it too much generally speaking... but I find if I end up working more than roughly 10 or 11 hours in a given day, I will start getting crabby.

    • Re:Healthcare (Score:5, Informative)

      by dkleinsc (563838) on Friday March 16, 2012 @11:05AM (#39377731) Homepage

      This is actually the strongest argument for completely socialized medicine: If everybody gets health care, always, from the same source, then it's more expensive (in hourly positions) to hire 1 person to work 60 hours per week than it is to hire 2 people to work 30 hours per week. And it's the sort of thing that every industry that isn't health care ought to be pushing for, because the benefits far outweigh the added taxes.

      You're still going to have a problem with workers that are considered 'exempt', which includes almost every American on /. with a job, as well as doctors, lawyers, and many other professionals. My understanding is that in Europe, professionals who don't work for themselves are not considered exempt from limits on how long they can be required to work.

      • Re:Healthcare (Score:5, Interesting)

        by omglolbah (731566) on Friday March 16, 2012 @11:45AM (#39378317)

        I'm a 'project engineer' in a company which produce control systems for oil/gas rigs and plants.

        Overtime has a legal maximum which is quite strict here in Norway:

        Translation of the legalese:
        -----
        10 hours in a span of 7 days.
        25 hours in a span of 4 consecutive weeks.
        200 hours in a span of 52 weeks.

        Total work time must not exceed 13 hours in a span of 24 hours. Total work time must also not exceed 48 hours in a span of 7 days.

        The limit of 48 hours can be averaged over a period of 8 weeks. This means that during some weeks more hours can occur but this must be offset by fewer hours in another week.
        -----

        Very few workers are exempt from these rules. A programmer or IT person is most certainly not exempt!

  • by geoffrobinson (109879) on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:22AM (#39376987) Homepage

    The argument in the summary should have stopped at using the argument based on productivity. If your worker will make less mistakes and be more productive by working less, you want your worker to work about 40 hours.

    "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."

    This, however, doesn't follow. If a 40 hour a week worker is more productive I might not need the extra worker if I'm getting more from my team. However, that may mean I can put my capital to better use in a different area, not necessarily software development.

    • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:43AM (#39377363) Homepage

      The author also assumes that all man-hours are interchangeable. Someone with experience working an extra two hours on a project he's been tending all day is apparently only as productive as a new kid just starting his shift, groggy from sleep and unaware of the project's current state.

      Then of course there's the issues of which industry you're working in, attitude, office politics, and so forth. Articles such as this one often consider all the many unemployed able people as interchangeable, but they really aren't. While so many people are looking for work, there are also many companies looking for employees already - the requirements of the two sets just don't overlap often enough to eliminate unemployment.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:22AM (#39377003)

    This facile analysis falls for the trap, so brilliantly outlined in The Mythical Man-Month [wikipedia.org], that throwing more people at the same software problem will result in increased productivity. Because of networking and communication problems, the reverse is often true. While I don't doubt the problems of overtime are a serious issue (and should be minimized), the reality also is that his "cure" isn't. It continues to amaze me how people know so little of our own history in this realm.

    • by Whatsisname (891214) on Friday March 16, 2012 @12:15PM (#39378855) Homepage

      The lesson of Mythical Man-month is more that you can't make up for bad scheduling by throwing more people at the project in the middle, that adding more people to a late project will make it later. It especially focuses on productivity with respect to time.

      If you throw more people onto a project from day one of a year+ long project, you sure can expect more productivity.

      10 engineers can be 10 times as productive working for a year as 1 engineer. What fails is if you have 1 engineer working for 11 months, then adding 99 more the last month, and expect to equal the productivity of the 10 engineers working for a year solid.

      9 women can't make a baby in a month, but 9 women can make 9 babies in the same amount of time it takes 1 woman to make 1 baby.

      It is better to have 5 engineers rather than 4 overworked ones, if they all start projects together.

      • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Friday March 16, 2012 @01:22PM (#39379871) Homepage Journal

        10 engineers can be 10 times as productive working for a year as 1 engineer.

        No they can't.

        You do gain productivity by adding more people to the project from the beginning, certainly, but the output does not scale linearly. In my experience, 2-3 good engineers may well be a little more than 2-3 times as productive as one good engineer -- at the low end more perspectives leads to better solutions which are easier to implement. But once you get much larger than that, the overhead of communicating and keeping everyone in sync becomes significant.

        When you get up to about five people, at least one of them has to devote a non-trivial percentage of their time to coordinating the work of the others, and doing that sucks time away from the others as well. At 10, you're going to have a hard time if one of them isn't almost fully dedicated to project management, or unless you break into subteams and spread the PM load.

        All in all, given good people, I'd say that 10 engineers are about 8x as productive as one engineer.

  • by DEFFENDER (469046) on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:24AM (#39377023)

    Lets move away from an hour based work schedule to a task and accomplishment based work/pay system. Base salary and flexible hours. Penalties for work not completed or as a corrective measure. We don't measure lives in hours, why should our job's measure what we do for them in hours?

    Mandating an "hours per week" for employee's is the problem, not the solution.

    • by JWW (79176) on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:59AM (#39377623)

      I agree completely. Measuring things based on accomplishment is waaaay better.

      BUT

      That would require that the management of companies be actually capable of measuring accomplishment and they generally are NOT capable of this.

      A great deal of the problems faced by modern society today comes from the fact that the concepts and theories on management (all that MBA crap) for the past 30 years are mostly useless and wrong.

      Measuring hours worked is easy, measuring effectiveness is hard. Managers these days are incapable of doing things that are hard.

    • by quintus_horatius (1119995) on Friday March 16, 2012 @11:17AM (#39377921) Homepage

      Lets move away from an hour based work schedule to a task and accomplishment based work/pay system

      I believe the term you're looking for is "piecework [wikipedia.org]". It has a bad reputation and is frequently linked to sweat shops.

  • by MrDiablerie (533142) on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:24AM (#39377027) Homepage
    In European counties such as Denmark where on the whole the standard of living and quality of life are better than the US, people work less than we do. They have more time with their families enjoying life instead of killing themselves at the office. Americans are trained to feel like they have to overwork in order to get ahead, we should really strive towards following the European model.
    • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Friday March 16, 2012 @11:23AM (#39378005) Homepage

      Americans are trained to feel like they have to overwork in order to get ahead, we should really strive towards following the European model.

      It's tied to one of the great lies of American culture: "If you're smart and you work hard, you will become super-rich."

      American culture is all about this. We want to point to people like Bill Gates and Donald Trump and say, "Look at these men! They came from nothing, and through their own intelligence and hard work, they became rich and famous." Of course, they didn't come from poverty, and they didn't achieve success through intelligence and hard work alone.

      But people believe these things, and they want to make the world a paradise for the super-rich so that one day, when they become rich, the world of opulence will have been preserved for them. Then they look at their own lives and say, "Whoa whoa whoa! Why am I not rich yet? The only two components to success are intelligence and hard work, and it can't be a lack of intelligence because I'm incredibly brilliant. It must be that I haven't been working hard enough." And it's in this way that we convince ourselves that everyone who is poor is lazy and/or stupid, and our problems would be solved by working more and trying harder. It's hardly ever considered that the answer might be a change in strategy.

  • by mapkinase (958129) on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:24AM (#39377033) Homepage Journal

    I worked in IT since 1986 and I have never had any fixed hours or overtime. It has always been about performance - how much you do.

    Fixating on one factor that affects productivity is stupid. Let people decided themselves. If someone can do more in 40 hours than in 80 hours - fine. Let him do it. If someone wants to work 80 hours, fine let him doing. Ask about project progress, not how many hours he was logged in or occupied the chair.

    Unless you are talking about Chrysler shop in Detroit.

  • by peter303 (12292) on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:26AM (#39377071)
    rather than hiring new employees. Why incur the cost of more overhead then? The largest overhead is medical benefits, about $10K a family. then comes other benefits, office space, computers, etc.
  • 35 hour week here (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:27AM (#39377077)

    I'm on a 35 hour week and I make sure I stick to it, partly because I don't know when I'll ever be on one again but also because I'm of the opinion that after 7 or so hours in front of a screen your ability think logically diminishes and no amount of over-time is going to fix the bug.

    Leave the office, the chances are that you'll figure out the problem on your commute home, during dinner or on the john and you can fix it the following day.

    • by phantomfive (622387) on Friday March 16, 2012 @12:37PM (#39379185) Journal

      Leave the office, the chances are that you'll figure out the problem on your commute home, during dinner or on the john

      Or in your dream. It drives me crazy when that happens because then I'm doing work and not getting paid for it. If I ever become a contractor I'm definitely putting a line-item on the bill for dream work.

  • by RogueyWon (735973) * on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:27AM (#39377079) Journal

    I've found there are three main reasons why people may end up working beyond their contracted hours:

    1) The work that they have to do cannot be done during the hours they are contracted to work.

    2) The work that they have to do can be done during the hours they are contracted to work, but the organisational or office culture puts pressure on people to be seen to be in the office outside those hours.

    3) They have their own reasons for wanting to be working, which may range from a genuine passion for their work through to problems at home they would rather get away from.

    Of these, 3) is generally not something the employer/manager should get involved in (unless home problems are starting to bleed over into the office).

    I think that in most non-militant workplaces, people accept that 1) will occur from time to time and that, if it's for short periods, it's not a huge problem (particularly if the employer takes steps to recognise it and reward employees accordingly, be it financially, via time-in-lieu, or some other method). If it's not for short periods, then it absolutely will lead to morale and productivity problems and the employer/manager needs to think again about resourcing, or accept high staff turnover and problems with the quality of their outputs. This seems to be an endemic problem in certain industries (such as video games development) which are seen by outsiders as desirable places to work - meaning that there are always lots of eager young things waiting in the wings to replace burn-outs.

    I suspect that the most common cause, however, is 2). Certainly, in the decade or so that I've been in full-time employment, I've come across quite a few offices where the work could be handled within contracted hours, but where the nature of the workplace culture meant that people were "padding" their working day; making tasks take longer than needed, or spending lots of time browsing the web in the afternoon. It's particularly noticable that workplaces like this seem to prize "being at your desk late in an evening" over "being there early in the morning". In part, I blame the shift to open-plan offices for this - there can be a "walk of shame" factor to leaving the office when your colleagues are still at their desks.

    In one of my early management posts, I did try to tackle a culture like this in the office I was managing. I made a big thing about tracking how heavily loaded each team-member was and getting people to report when their workload reached the point where it would require them to work out of hours. I also made it gently but firmly clear that if your workload wasn't at that point, I expected you to get it done during normal office hours (happily, there was a wider organisational push at the time to reduce our power/lighting bills, which I could hook that onto).

    For a while, it worked reasonably well. There was a bit of grumbling from a couple of people who, I suspect, thought that being seen in the office doing very long hours was a substitute for being any good at their job, but most people were happy to go along with it - and the quality of the office's work (which was mostly casework, requiring little creativity, but a lot of attention to detail) actually rose.

    Then word got out (falsely, as it happened) that there may be redundancies headed in - and despite reassurances to the contrary, everybody assumed that they way to avoid being singled out was to be seen in the office every hour of the day - so all the work I'd done went to waste anyway. Overnight, things went back to being as bad as ever - and productivity fell off again.

    Managament can be a pita at times.

  • by a2wflc (705508) on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:29AM (#39377125)

    In my current job it is the bosses :)

    But I've been in many jobs where it's the workers. Where workers constantly and repeatedly overcommit (I can do this in 4 weeks). Then the customer is waiting and the boss (not unreasonably) expects the date to be met. The boss could do better at limiting this but the workers do usually deliver then commit again.

    In other places, a few workers want to "get ahead" or just enjoy what they're doing and work more hours. Many of these people CAN and want to work 60 hours (actually around 50 is the limit I've seen and there's less productivity increase doing more month-after-month). The problem is that other worker start to try this to compete for the next promotion - and they can't do it.

    • by Scutter (18425) on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:42AM (#39377351) Journal

      In my current job it is the bosses :)

      But I've been in many jobs where it's the workers. Where workers constantly and repeatedly overcommit (I can do this in 4 weeks). Then the customer is waiting and the boss (not unreasonably) expects the date to be met. The boss could do better at limiting this but the workers do usually deliver then commit again.

      In other places, a few workers want to "get ahead" or just enjoy what they're doing and work more hours. Many of these people CAN and want to work 60 hours (actually around 50 is the limit I've seen and there's less productivity increase doing more month-after-month). The problem is that other worker start to try this to compete for the next promotion - and they can't do it.

      Then it's STILL the boss's fault. The manager's job is to manage his people, and if they're routinely committing to deadlines that require massive overtime to meet, then he's not managing them effectively.

  • by thepainguy (1436453) <thepainguy@gmail.com> on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:32AM (#39377165) Homepage
    The idea that you could end unemployment by spreading the work around assumes that people are fungible -- that they are completely interchangeable -- which they most certainly aren't. While it may sound like a good idea for Craig and Nate to share the job of coding System X, the fact is that Nate is 10X better at programming than Craig is.

    In fact, it's arguable whether Craig can even do the job at all.
  • by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:36AM (#39377229)

    I have good news.

    The CEOs of the fortune 500 companies have all just met and decided they are going to push for a 40 hour work week. The only slight catch is- they're pushing for a week to be redefined as 3 days long and weekends are being abolished.

  • by N1AK (864906) on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:37AM (#39377253) Homepage
    This has got to be one of the most obviously nonsensical submission summaries I have seen. Firstly it talks about how people would get more work done if they didn't do overtime. Then it suggests that overtime is responsible for cutting down number of jobs. The second points very existence relies on the first point being false. If people doing 40 hrs are more effective then less overtime would increase the work done per person and thus decrease the need to employ more people.
  • by mbone (558574) on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:41AM (#39377323)

    We will not turn this situation around until we do what our 19th-century ancestors did: confront our bosses, present them with the data, and make them understand that what they are doing amounts to employee abuse — and that abuse is based on assumptions that are directly costing them untold potential profits."

    He left out the actual means used to do this - unionization.

  • DUH DUH DUH (Score:5, Insightful)

    by doston (2372830) on Friday March 16, 2012 @11:01AM (#39377649)
    When the fake, corporate controlled news this week was saying "how could the unemployment rate possibly be going down and the private sector adding jobs when GDP growth is only 2%???" as if they don't know full well why. It's because the private sector has squeezed every drop of productivity out of every stressed out worker it possibly can and finally HAS to hire (at huge discounts from a few years ago, since you're desperate now). Since there's no labor organization, nobody can go to their boss as a one person union and demand less working hours (they'd laugh in your face), corporations go by different measures of productivity because they know you don't dare. Yeah, that's the reason the hiring doesn't exactly match GDP growth. It's a rotten arrangement and until everyone gets the anti-union sentiment they've had hammered into their brains by *massive* corporate propaganda campaigns for 40 years, this is how it's going to be, so wise up or deal. Luckily the company I work at is privately owned and not subject to the torture of the merciless shareholder whip. That's really the problem with society overall. Corporate charters...and that's what is so confusing to people. They meet their CEO and he's such a nice guy and he cares about the environment and homeless people PERSONALLY, but in his INSTITUTIONAL ROLE, he's subject to INVESTOR LAWSUITS, if he doesn't operate like a psychopath and squeeze every drop of productivity out of everyone and every drop of profit out of anything at ANY COST. All externalities, like people, the environment, morals aside, he is BOUND BY LAW which is clearly spelled out in almost every corporate charter to do anything he can, screw anybody he has to, to get as much money as he can. If you don't get that, you don't understand how things work. Until the structure and mission of corporations are changed, you can whine all you want and nothing is ever going to change. GET IT? Seriously people stop being so pathetically naive. When it's profit first at any cost, problems ensue.
  • by abarrow (117740) on Friday March 16, 2012 @11:01AM (#39377655) Homepage

    You'll be comforted to know that a good deal of the worlds oil production in is done by thousands people who are contracted to work 12 hour days, 6.5 days per week, for 4 to 6 weeks per hitch. This is usually after killer jet lag, since the majority of them fly 8-20 hours to get to work. I know, I did it for a couple of years.

    All that explosive, environmentally dangerous stuff managed by people who are impaired due to continuous overtime and lack of sleep? How could that be a problem?

  • by Kjella (173770) on Friday March 16, 2012 @11:09AM (#39377809) Homepage

    What you need is a change in the "exempt" laws. Here in Norway the only people that are exempt are those in management and particularly independent positions, simply being a white collar worker is not sufficient. As long as you have fixed or semi-fixed working hours, as long as you have no power of delegation or to organize your own work (really free like where, when, how you want as long as you meet your deliverables) you are not exempt. There are also some laws on maximum overtime but in all honestly both employers and employees often ignore that as long as they get their overtime pay.

    That gives the right incentive that employers would rather hire people at full rate than have people work for time and a half. That penalizes inefficient workers and slackers who can't make up for it by working extra time - forcing you to work extra time to stay "even" because employers lose money when you need overtime to finish what others finish in regular hours. As long as the US is full of "exempt" workers whose work is still measured in wall clock hours, you will continue to get screwed because another hour is a free hour. It's like trying to keep the flies away after dipping yourself in honey.

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