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Bring Back the 40-Hour Work Week 969

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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  • 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 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.

  • Re:Well... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:28AM (#39377095)

    In the UK it wasn't far off that.

    It wasn't statutory, but the average working week for a software guy was around 37 hours. Sure, we were paid less than in the US, but we weren't expected to be there all hours, we got five weeks of holiday a year which we were expected to take, and well, life was good.

    Not quite as good as Australia. Australia is currently swimming in mining money, so the salaries are as good as the US but the hours are European.

  • 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 Terrasque ( 796014 ) on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:31AM (#39377147) Homepage Journal

    Actually, as a norwegian, my first thought was "Why would you want to increase work time?" - As our laws are very strict on those things, and is set to 37.5 hours a week (lunch is calculated as half an hour off each day).

    The rules allow working overtime, but only in short periods, and only to a maximum amount over a certain period (don't recall exactly now).

    In fact, I know people who were forced to take two weeks paid vacation because they've worked too much, and had to stop working a period to not break the law. The companies usually puts this in quiet periods when needed, so they have the option of overtime when they need it.

    Seems to work well for us, at least :) You know, as a civilized country and all that.

  • He will begin talking to you about his ideas for a proposed pay cut for staff so that more can be hired. Still want to do this?

  • How dare! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by macraig ( 621737 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [giarc.a.kram]> on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:36AM (#39377231)

    How dare these people suggest that the One Percent must hire 20 percent more development staff and cut further into their already meager profits! Just who do they think they are?

  • by darjen ( 879890 ) on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:47AM (#39377441)

    I am an American and I also work 37.5 hours a week. I work in the IT department of a large well known manufacturing company, and our hours are typically 8:30-5. And people here are almost always gone at 5. However, before this place I worked at a few different small consulting shops, and they worked tons of overtime. That is probably why I didn't last long in those places and ended up here.

  • by IICV ( 652597 ) on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:48AM (#39377457)

    I swear, all you Slashdotters had better start learning Mandarin with this attitude.

    Have you ever worked with Chinese people? Like real Chinese people, from China. My wife has - she's a graduate student, and a lot of the other grad students came from over there. She's even been to a Chinese university for a couple of months, to do some field and lab work over there on a grant.

    At first, she was really disappointed in herself; she could see that the Chinese kids got to work before her and left really really late, and they'd even have lunch at their desks instead of going outside to eat.

    Then she paid a bit more attention, and realized something: those Chinese students weren't getting shit done. Even though she put in fewer hours and would take a break for lunch, she was getting at least as much work done, if not more.

    It's not that they're lazy or incompetent or anything like that, it's that they push themselves so hard they're all in this steady state of being half burnt out.

    The thing is, it doesn't matter how hard you're willing to work; there's only about eight hours per day of physical labor in you, or six hours per day of mental effort. Sure, you can put in more work for a week, maybe two, but after that the quality goes way downhill.

  • by unassimilatible ( 225662 ) on Friday March 16, 2012 @10:54AM (#39377537) Journal
    Go look at the mortality numbers of who lives longer. Those who immerse themselves in work and never retire live to 90. Then go look at the people who die a week after retiring. People need a purpose when they wake up in the morning to stay vital and healthy.
  • I've heard that people who have lived in Greece and observed how many hours people actually work think those numbers are a joke. It is entirely possible that Greek people just are more willing than anyone else to lie about how many hours they work.
  • Re:Healthcare (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mark-t ( 151149 ) <markt@nerdfl[ ]com ['at.' in gap]> 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.

  • by oh_my_080980980 ( 773867 ) on Friday March 16, 2012 @11:06AM (#39377739)
    "My brother works 60 hour weeks almost every week, and it doesn't seem to affect him"

    How do you know? How's the quality of his work? You're only knowledge of the affect is their personality change but you are assuming their work is not suffering.

    Stop pulling shit out of your ass.
  • by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Friday March 16, 2012 @11:16AM (#39377909)

    It's not that they're lazy or incompetent or anything like that, it's that they push themselves so hard they're all in this steady state of being half burnt out.

    I've also heard the same thing said about the Japanese. Hugely long work week, but totally shit productivity, but their society is so geared up to it that rebelling is nigh impossible.

  • Re:Meh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by stoanhart ( 876182 ) on Friday March 16, 2012 @11:26AM (#39378055)

    I don't know what job market you're talking about. Me, I'm straight out of college (only a lowly undergrad), making well above average starting wage for a software developer, working a solid 40 hours per week, and I had multiple excellent offers to choose from. If my employer started demanding constant unpaid overtime, I could easily leave and have a new job in no time. And no, I had no special connections or friends in high places. I attended career fairs and applied to online job postings. Disclaimer: this is in Canada, but I work for a US corporation, and I'm always hearing about how everyone in the US is desperate for talented programmers.

  • Re:almighty dollar (Score:3, Interesting)

    by emilper ( 826945 ) on Friday March 16, 2012 @11:30AM (#39378097)

    do you dig holes in the ground or pick potatoes for a living ? only there this might work ...

    Employee churn is expensive in training and lost productivity costs; it happens all the time, but it's stupid, the shareholder does not gain by it; the manager might get one bonus for showing "determination and initiative" and finishing one project in time, but gets fried with the next project ...

    Labour hours were lowered from 12h/day to 8h/day not because of the labour unions or the SocDems, but because 12h/day does not work with tasks that need skilled labour and expensive machinery.

  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Friday March 16, 2012 @11:37AM (#39378205) Homepage

    Yes and no, but mostly irrelevant in this context. I'd say in the Scandinavian countries in general there's very low tolerance for huge wage differences, that one person is so much more worth than another person. For example here in Norway probably the best paid CEO is Helge Lund, who leads an oil company with $90 billion USD in revenue and 30,000 employees - he's paid a little over $3 million USD - in a country where the average full time job pays around $80k so about 40 times that. The prime minister is paid about $240k or three times average wage.

    However, I have no impression that people try to out-do each other that way at work. Working yourself into the ground isn't well regarded, it's seen as destructive and a sign of bad management. So yes, if I was upper middle class or beyond, I'd probably want to move to the US because there's more "I want to be like you" envy than "I despise you" envy, not to mention the tax rates are much better. But I think you would find that the normal person is quite happy, and despite the economic hangups far more socially liberal than most of the US. Freedom is highly regarded, but not showing off superiority.

  • 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 oldmac31310 ( 1845668 ) on Friday March 16, 2012 @11:56AM (#39378543) Homepage
    I worked for a Japanese company for 10 years. It was always super-important to be SEEN to be working - even if there was really nothing to do. If caught idle the boss would usually find some menial task for the idle drone to perform. Often quite demeaning. On the other hand, what was good about this attitude is that if there was some menial shit that really did need to be done the bosses and managers would pitch in and work along side the rest of the staff. So there was a sort of equality - all parts of the same machine (not saying that the machine part is good). It is a clearly different cultural attitude to work. As to my Japanese colleagues productivity, I'd guess mediocre at best. My impression is that in a company setting the best way to survive for Japanese workers is to be just average regardless of your real capabilities. The nail that stick up gets hammered down.
  • Re:almighty dollar (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Friday March 16, 2012 @12:15PM (#39378871)

    Work consistent 80 hour weeks and you are a wrecking ball. Everything you touch has to be redone. That's bad if you are an assembly line worker. If you are an engineer it's much worse. If it goes a while before it gets redone it will cost much more.

    Productivity goes negative. I've seen it many times.

    Some people start with negative productivity. I've never seen one of them overworked to the point they become productive though.

  • by jgdobak ( 119142 ) on Friday March 16, 2012 @12:50PM (#39379383)

    Doctors are protected by the AMA, which keeps the number of medical schools and doctors in practice limited. No matter what motivation you assign to doing so, it helps protect the income of members.

    Young lawyers, on the other hand, are screwed.

  • by Kelbear ( 870538 ) on Friday March 16, 2012 @01:30PM (#39379987)

    All major public accounting firms have 60hour minimum work-weeks for Jan-April ("busy season") every year. If you enter only 58h during a week, there will be a follow-up inquiry on monday morning for why you missed your quota by 2 hours. This is only a minimum, you are also expected to be available to work all nights and all weekends. Further, such work conditions are not restricted to busy season, and the majority of employees should expect these conditions for at least 6 mo. of the year.

    It just becomes the new normal. A 60-hour week becomes a treasured vacation, you get to go home and eat with your family, maybe even talk to them a little before bed. When the hours creep up to 70, 80, and beyond, you have no choice but to eat at your laptop in a conference room with the rest of the team, get home after everyone is already asleep, then wake up and leave before they wake up. Hopefully you can work from home on the weekends and at least have breakfast with your family.

    Can hardly complain when I see some clients who have it worse though. SVP of Finance hasn't left the office in 4 days. The finance department just collapses onto a couch for a few hours a day.

    These work conditions are demanded by the market. There are set filing dates for public companies, and they, as well as their auditors from the public accounting firms, need to work to match those deadlines. The client I mentioned above missed their filing deadline and filed for a 1 week extension. Their stock price fell by 10% that day.

    It's just accepted. This is standard industry practice, and everyone is expected to suffer through it for years, because public accounting experience is the most rapid way to accelerate a career in accounting. Ultimately everyone hopes to leave for private accounting after accumulating 3-6 years of public accounting experience. Nobody was forced to take jobs in this line of work, everyone chooses to give up 3-6 years of their life for the promise of a better life when they can someday quit and take an advanced private accounting position. I hate my life during these stretches of insanity, and I definitely wish I could work more reasonable hours. But like everyone else in public accounting, we take on these ridiculous hours because we know it's the best way to move our career forward. I fantasize about quitting all the time, but I need to make as much money as possible so that I can take care of my family. If I give up early so that I can have it easier, my family won't be able to afford the same kind of lifestyle. I wish I was more clever, or had some valuable talent that would allow me to make a lot of money with a more reasonable workweek, but that's just not the case. In a few years, I will be able to have time with them, and I'll have the money to take care of them. We're all just chasing the American Dream I guess.

  • by HungWeiLo ( 250320 ) on Friday March 16, 2012 @02:04PM (#39380425)

    "It was always super-important to be SEEN to be working"

    I know several people working at Microsoft and Google who set up auto-email scripts to fire off random report emails to their reporting supervisors at random times between 1-3am every night.

  • by uncqual ( 836337 ) on Friday March 16, 2012 @02:28PM (#39380691)
    Well, of course no one is "wired" to handle "excessive" work (since, by definition, "excessive" is just that -- but varies from person to person, environment to environment).

    Einstein often worked long hours - perhaps he would have been more productive if he had taken five weeks vacation a year and worked Monday through Friday 8AM-5PM with lunch from 12 to 1 and a ten minute break at 10AM and 3PM the rest of the time?

    People who truly enjoy what they are doing and have certain personality types can often work very long hours and be more productive per hour by doing so. I've had jobs (at startups) where I loved what I was doing and worked effectively 70+ hours a week (usually engrossed in interesting or puzzling problems when I realized I'd been at work for 14 hours and should probably go home). I've also worked at boring and unrewarding jobs where productivity dropped precipitously within 30 minutes after I walked in the door.

    I only recall a few days in my life where I was "mandated to work overtime" - it just happens. In those cases where it was mandated by a misguided VP or Director, myself (and others) began to work 40 hours a week plus just the mandated overtime. Within a couple weeks the VP or Director stopped mandatory overtime, apparently having realized that those who were getting the work done were now working less and those who were not getting work done were just around the office more hours distracting those who usually got work done (and both groups were substantially grumpier). So, yes, in these cases individual and team productivity did drop.

    Basically, if work is an interesting hobby that someone happens to pay you to do and you're a healthy high energy individual, 40 hours a week is a cinch. Working on an assembly line (or the IT equivalent) rarely falls in that category.
  • by It took my meds ( 1843456 ) on Saturday March 17, 2012 @08:24AM (#39388201)

    I'm so relieved I don't live in America. In Australia we work 40 hour weeks and are a very wealthy nation with a great deal of equality, and well adjusted people as a whole.

  • You hit the nail on the head with your comments. Bravo.

    For a few years, when my younger son (3 siblings) was a teenager, I had to work for a long time as a consultant, supporting a product. The customers were in different timezones, (gmt-4 to gmt-8). You can imagine the 5:30am start and the 8pm end. My wife and I decided that the family was more important than this job, and I changed careers. I can say that saved my son, because dad was home to act as the role model. The son also needed to ask questions that mom could not answer, and I was there.

    Today, my wife and three siblings and grandkids all live in my city. We do without tablets, vacations to the south or boat cruises, and we note that we do not miss these material based things. My wife and I have no lack of any essentials, and we have the love of our children and their significant others.

    Bravo again to cpu6502. Call me rich.

  • A CEO who shows up to work late and leaves before most of his employees is likely not going to be a CEO for very long as they will either run the company into the ground through bankruptcy (and not paying attention to the employees) or the board of directors is going to notice that things are being seriously neglected and will get fired. That isn't to say that a good CEO can't on occasion take the day off early to pursue something of a life, but my experience is that a typical CEO is very much a workaholic and tends to put in even longer days than most of the employees... usually in meetings to find out what is going on in the company or interviewing employees. Really good CEOs tend to even "get on the line" and do some occasional grunt work.

    Examples of good CEOs in the past were folks like Dave Thomas (of Wendy's restaurants) who made it a habit to put on the apron and grill hamburgers at least a few hours each week, and Sam Walton (founder of Wal-Mart) who didn't hesitate to spend a few hours simply stocking shelves in some of his stores if for no other reason than to meet customers and find out the work environment of his employees. That is how you get to know your company and get it to grow.

    Yes, there are lazy CEOs that also don't care about the companies they are running. Those companies are also ones I think you should look to short sell their stock if you know about them too.

    Another example of a CEO that is a major workaholic is Elon Musk, the CEO of both SpaceX and Tesla Motors. Then again he wrecked his second marriage (as well as his first) simply because he spent so much time at work that he hasn't been able to deal with his respective wives and their needs. I admire what he has accomplished, but his personal life is going to hell because of what he does to earn the money he is making. I'd also suggest that most successful CEOs are much more like Elon Musk than a lazy idle rich child working for "daddy's company".

e-credibility: the non-guaranteeable likelihood that the electronic data you're seeing is genuine rather than somebody's made-up crap. - Karl Lehenbauer