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40 Hours are Optimal

Michael Yared
Michael Yared
March 15, 2016
40 Hours are Optimal

It’s shocking how many people tell me they work for companies where 60 hour weeks are normal. Many say that they are expected to always be on call and answer emails before and after work. Employees who simply put in 40 hours a week are looked down upon or penalized.

But should they be?

Ample research exists that show adding hours to an employees work week doesn’t yield more production. If the perception of working hard is what leads to more opportunities or a better bonus, it’s easy to see why employees are willing to fall in line. Perhaps we should then just follow George Constanza’s advice and always look annoyed.

“When you look annoyed all the time, people think you’re busy.” — George Constanza

Needing a Change of Pace

During an interview for an opening we had, we spoke with one individual who mentioned falling in the camp of mostly working 60+ hour weeks. The interviewee was looking for a new position because the current workload was not allowing for things that were important to the individual such as exercising and contributing to open source.

When we asked what was driving the 60 hour weeks, the answer was “deadlines”. Their next big corporate deadline was two months away. Think about that for a minute. A dev team of almost 20 people knew they had to work that long just to meet a deadline.

“Who estimated that job?” — Michael Yared

We reassured the candidate that at Echobind, we can give back 20 hours a week because we limit our work week to 40 hours. Further, as a remote agency we can give back 5 hours a week as there is little to no commute. Those 25 hours a week end up being 1,175 hours per year. Put another way, over 48 full days were made available to learn, travel, exercise, sleep or do as they please!

The Work Hard Badge

There are times when I like to feel exhausted. I know that after a long ride, I’ll be in better shape and ready to go further the next time. Unfortunately, this doesn’t translate to the business world as we should be training to work smarter, not longer. Working while exhausted leads to less output, more mistakes and worst of all: poor judgement. An HBR article on the subject cited how overworked employees even have trouble prioritizing work. They went on to say:

“In sum, the story of overwork is literally a story of diminishing returns: keep overworking, and you’ll progressively work more stupidly on tasks that are increasingly meaningless.” — Sarah Green Carmichael

With all this being true, you still find that proud person proclaiming that they always work 80 hour weeks as though they want to be recognized for an achievement. No.

“Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done.” — Jason Fried

For software developers, mistakes often times don’t show themselves for days. Worse for business owners, mistakes are costly. Programming is typically a team sport, and the actions of one person can lead to more work for everyone else. Being mentally and physically drained from overwork and lack of sleep doesn’t help you or anyone on your project.

So, the next time you hear someone bragging that they work 60, 70 or 80 hours a week, please tell them you’re sorry, and ask how you can help. If they don’t believe that they have a problem, point them to experts or science to help persuade them.

Work-life balance is a worthy cause. It’s less about how much you work, and more about how productive you can be while enjoying life.

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