Name: Working all the time
Employed as: Conductor, for 20-30 years
Posted: 28 March 2012
For many in the entrepreneurship game, long hours are a badge of honor.
Starting a business is tough, so all those
late nights show how determined, hard working and serious about making
your business work you are, right?
Wrong. According to a handful of studies, consistently clocking over 40
hours a week just makes you unproductive
(and very, very tired).
That's bad news for most workers, who typically put in at least 55
hours a week, recently wrote Sara Robinson at Salon.
Robinson's lengthy, but fascinating, article traces the origins of the
idea of the 40-hour week and it's downfall and is well worth a read in
full. But the essential nugget of wisdom from her article is that
working long hours for long periods is not only useless – it's
actually harmful. She wrote:
The most essential thing to know about the 40-hour work-week is
that, while it was the unions that pushed it,
business leaders ultimately went along with it because their own data
convinced them this was a solid, hard-nosed
Evan Robinson, a software engineer with a long interest in
programmer productivity (full disclosure: our shared
last name is not a coincidence) summarized this history in a white
paper he wrote for the International Game
Developers’ Association in 2005. The original paper contains a wealth
of links to studies conducted by businesses,
universities, industry associations and the military that supported
early-20th-century leaders as they embraced the
short week. 'Throughout the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, these studies were
apparently conducted by the hundreds,' writes Robinson; 'and by the
1960s, the benefits of the 40-hour week were accepted almost beyond
question in corporate America. In 1962, the Chamber of Commerce even
published a pamphlet extolling the productivity gains of reduced
What these studies showed, over and over, was that industrial
workers have eight good, reliable hours a day in them.
On average, you get no more widgets out of a 10-hour day than you do
out of an eight-hour day.
Robinson does acknowledge that working overtime isn't always a bad
idea. "Research by the Business Roundtable in the 1980s
found that you could get short-term gains by going to 60- or 70-hour
weeks very briefly — for example, pushing extra hard
for a few weeks to meet a critical production deadline," she wrote.
But Robinson stressed that "increasing a team’s hours
in the office by 50 percent (from 40 to 60 hours) does not result in
50 percent more output...In fact, the numbers may
typically be something closer to 25-30 percent more work in 50 percent
The clear takeaway here is to stop staying at the office so late, but
getting yourself to actually go home on time may be
more difficult psychologically than you imagine.
As author Laura Vanderkam has pointed out, for many of us, there's
actually a pretty strong correlation between how busy
we are and how important we feel. "We live in a competitive society,
and so by lamenting our overwork and sleep deprivation
— even if that requires workweek inflation and claiming our worst
nights are typical — we show that we are dedicated to
our jobs and our families," she wrote recently in the Wall Street
Long hours, in other, words are often more about proving something to
ourselves than actually getting stuff done.
Are your 55+ hour weeks really productive and sustainable?
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