The Case for Reasonable Hours: Fact or Fiction?

May 10, 2012

Inspired by Sheryl Sandberg, Inc.’s Geoffrey James calls for us to “Stop Working More Than 40 Hours a Week.” Though Facebook COO Sandberg has been leaving on time to get home to her kids for seven years, the powerful executive only recently felt she could admit the fact in a culture where long hours are now required for workers to be considered dedicated and, by extension, worthy of raises and advancement. James points out that the excruciating trend has gained the upper hand despite longstanding evidence that working over 40 hours per week actually decreases performance. He writes:

“In the early 1900s, Ford Motor ran dozens of tests to discover the optimum work hours for worker productivity.  They discovered that the ‘sweet spot’ is 40 hours a week–and that, while adding another 20 hours provides a minor increase in productivity, that increase only lasts for three to four weeks, and then turns negative.

“Anyone who’s spent time in a corporate environment knows that what was true of factory workers a hundred years ago is true of office workers today.  People who put in a solid 40 hours a week get more done than those who regularly work 60 or more hours.”

This logic has shades of Henri Poincaré to be sure, but the advocates of balance have a point. People who just keep on keeping on past their 40 hours are at risk for burnout, which makes them far less productive. Just because you’re at your desk typing or clicking away does not mean you are doing a good job. Anyone who has had to redo work they (or worse, their colleague) did the night before, when intellectually numb and aching to get home to loved ones, can attest to that.

We think that opinions about how long to work are okay. The reality is that hard work often contributes to success. In fact, for some, work is play so it continues around the clock. We prefer the work mode. It validates self concept, generates revenue, and seems more productive than watching random YouTube videos.

Cynthia Murrell, May 10, 2012

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