Bringing Back The 40-hour Workweek

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These days it seems that the 40-hour workweek is a pipe dream of of a bygone past (if it ever was a reality). This seems especially true for the field of software development which seems to glorify working excessively long hours like an old fashioned pissing match.

It is pretty well documented that working long hours can end up being counter-productive. After working for a prolonged stretch, workers tend to get fatigued and the law of diminishing returns kicks in. I read of one study that demonstrates how productivity steeply declines in the 45th to the 50th hour. In my opinion, this is especially true for software development as code written in the wee hours of a marathon session tend to produce more work in the long run due to bugs. That gets budgeted elsewhere.

Software developers and management just don’t keep track of the real productivity numbers. They’ll remember that you got the code completed by the deadline via marathon sessions, but they won’t factor in the time spent debugging and fixing bugs found weeks later due to that session.

Not to mention the negative impact on employees relationships and physical health. It’s no wonder that a common new years resolution among developers was to get in better shape.

So I find it fitting that my friend Kyle sends me this article written by Joe Robinson, author of “Work to Live”. The title of it is “Bring back the 40-hour workweek – and let us take a long vacation

I’ve written about work-life balance before, but I should make clear before anyone gets the wrong idea that desiring work-life balance does not make one a slacker. Unfortunately I have been having trouble personally applying this philosophy since I started a company, but as an owner, every extra hour benefits me. For many salaried employees, creating an environment where the bravado of working long hours is encouraged, primarily appears to benefit your corporate masters (unless you are paid in overtime etc…).

So for this year, make your resolution to work less and live more (unless you really are a slacker in which case you should get off your lazy butt). Spend more time getting into shape and other hobbies you enjoy. If all you want to do is code, spend that extra time contributing to an open source project. You might learn something that helps keep you competitive.

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5 responses

  1. Avatar for Jeff Atwood
    Jeff Atwood January 5th, 2006


    But on a deeper level it's about energy level and whether you're having fun or not. "Balance" is different for everyone, but fun is universal.

  2. Avatar for Scott Williams
    Scott Williams January 5th, 2006

    Hell yes! I generally manage to do 40-45 hours per week. I have found if it's not too frequent I can maintain productivity while working late hours if I have to, but, as my co-workers can testify, I have a rather sour disposition the day after.

    I've always felt that there is just way more to life than the office. Ultimately what's the point? Slave at 70 hours/week for what? A happy boss and a gold watch at retirement? No thanks.

  3. Avatar for Haacked
    Haacked January 5th, 2006


    I agree to a degree (who new i was a poet?). But say I find going to the stripper to be fun (for the sake of argument). Wouldn't 14hrs a day be excessive, especially given I'm happily married? I suppose if my wife was OK with it, and I had nothing else just as fun to do, it might well be. But I think I would benefit from having other interests.

    In my case, I have enough energy and love coding to do more than 40hrs a week, but I find it more fulfilling to diversify and give some of that energy to open source and personal projects. But I also understand and agree that "balance" is not the same across the board and that what I feel does not apply to everyone.


    What kind of watch are we talking about here?

  4. Avatar for Scott Williams
    Scott Williams January 5th, 2006

    Well if the watch had bluetooth and wifi, then we could talk...

  5. Avatar for Steve Harman
    Steve Harman January 6th, 2006

    Wow... I can't remember the last time I worked _only_ 40 hrs in a week. As a matter of fact, I'm just coming off quite a bender of a week right now. I was on Holiday/Vacation on Mon./Tue., and yet I still managed to book more than 40 hrs between Wed and Fri. Man, deadlines SUCK!

    I can't believe that I'm still up writing this comment to be honest... but at least I can enjoy a nice Miller Lite while I do it:) Perhaps more drinking in the workplace would help boost productivity! Err, wait... on second thought I suppose it would only increase the number of "what the F- was I thinking when I wrote that?" moments.