question: the 40 hour work week vs Silicon Valley?

by Florian_Dietz1 min read24th Oct 2014108 comments

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Conventional wisdom, and many studies, hold that 40 hours of work per week are the optimum before exhaustion starts dragging your productivity down too much to be worth it. I read elsewhere that the optimum is even lower for creative work, namely 35 hours per week, though the sources I found don't all seem to agree.

In contrast, many tech companies in silicon valley demand (or 'encourage', which is the same thing in practice) much higher work times. 70 or 80 hours per week are sometimes treated as normal.

How can this be?

Are these companies simply wrong and are actually hurting themselves by overextending their human resources? Or does the 40-hour week have exceptions?

How high is the variance in how much time people can work? If only outliers are hired by such companies, that would explain the discrepancy. Another possibility is that this 40 hour limit simply does not apply if you are really into your work and 'in the flow'. However, as far as I understand it, the problem is a question of concentration, not motivation, so that doesn't make sense.

There are many articles on the internet arguing for both sides, but I find it hard to find ones that actually address these questions instead of just parroting the same generalized responses every time: Proponents of the 40 hour week cite studies that do not consider special cases, only averages (at least as far as I could find). Proponents of the 80 hour week claim that low work weeks are only for wage slaves without motivation, which reeks of bias and completely ignores that one's own subjective estimate of one's performance is not necessarily representative of one's actual performance.

Do you know of any studies that address these issues?

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I agree that it's surprising that (1) working long hours seems to have been found ineffective in academic studies and yet (2) businesses tend to want it. Aside from startups, I remark that the finance industry is notorious for extremely long working hours, and yet you'd have thought that (say) a hedge fund could benefit a lot from having its very expensive very smart people working more effectively if shorter hours would achieve that.

One possibility I've wondered about is that maybe it's about latency rather than bandwidth. In other words: If you're at work for shorter hours, then you may get more done but when someone else needs you -- especially if it might be someone else in a different timezone -- then they may have to wait a lot longer, and that may end up outweighing your greater individual productivity.

(I think I've seen something very like this offered as an explanation for investment banks' punishingly long hours: one of the things an i-bank's clients are paying a lot of money for is knowing that at any time they can call up the person who's trying to put together a deal, and discuss it with them. That means that those people need to be around for long hours, which means that the people doing analysis for them also need to be around for long hours. I have never worked in an investment bank and do not know how credible this is.)

8CronoDAS7yFinance has a weird incentive structure. As my brother the stock trader explained it: 1) There is a practically infinite amount of work that any one group could be doing - there's always more data to be analyzed, companies to consider, etc., but there's diminishing returns to more work, because the best opportunities are exploited first and many kinds of financial activity are zero-sum competition over a finite pool of money. Hiring more people makes the total workload greater rather than dividing a fixed pile of work over more people. 2) Hiring someone takes money directly out of the pockets of their co-workers and the boss doing the hiring, so it's a last resort. Employee labor is the main expense, and pay and group "productivity" are tightly coupled: each group basically gets paid out of their own profits. If you're running a small group of traders - say, five people - and you decide to hire a sixth person, you and the other four people take a pay cut equal to that person's salary. (And because of diminishing returns, they don't make as much money per person as the smallest possible group that can do your kind of finance.) 3) Finance selects for people who want money more than time. People who can't devote just about every waking hour to work don't stay employed in finance very long - whether voluntarily or not. 4) Just about everyone in finance retires much earlier than in other professions. Once someone hits 40 or so they're usually burned out and leave the industry - they already have a huge pile of money, so they don't really need to keep working hundred hour weeks.
4Lumifer7y(1) Is true, just as it is true in scientific research, for example. (2) Hiring people only if their expected contribution is greater than their expected cost is the baseline, standard, utterly normal practice everywhere. (3) "People who can't devote just about every waking hour to work don't stay employed in finance very long" -- is false. (4) "Once someone hits 40 or so they're usually burned out and leave the industry" -- is false. I think you're confusing finance as an industry and small-scale, indie trading.
2CronoDAS7yMy brother used to do stock trading (in a small group) for Goldman Sachs before jumping ship for a hedge fund that offered him much more money. Of course, not everyone in finance does stock trading, so he might be seeing only a small part of what goes on...
2Lumifer7yRight, so ask him about the finance industry (which is mostly banks, by the way) -- prop trading is only a very small corner of it...
4[anonymous]7ySince when did businesses behave according to perfect economic rationality, untainted by macho complexes or status displays/contests? Think what you might do if you were actually trying to make sure someone was awake and on-call for discussing a deal at all hours. To my mind, redundant staff or shift-work would function better than espresso-driven manias. Whereas I've heard plenty about I-banking hours being a form of hazing, which makes perfect sense.
4Douglas_Knight7yThe smarter the hedge fund, the shorter the hours. One claim I've heard about investment banks is that low-level employees do nothing all day and then the boss leaves at 6 and gives them an assignment to be done when he come back in the morning.
8gjm7yIf that is actually known to be true, it's very interesting information. Source?
-2Izeinwinter7yI think a lot of the finance industry overwork is outright about impairing employee judgement. Desensitization training - If a lot of what you do is abhorrent or just flat out nuts to the faculties of your recruits, work them until they are numb, and their sunk costs so high that quitting is no longer an option they can easily conceive of. Because they have no life other than the job. I also recall a highly hilarious study indicating that "skill" was essentially a nul factor in employee productivity in investment banking - so maybe it just flat out doesn't matter that the guy manning the desk is punch-drunk with sleep deprevation as long as he isn't so out of it he forgets to call frankfurt when the price of steel moves.
0William_Quixote7yDo you work in the financial industry? You seem to have a very confident tone which might be misleading to readers if your source is speculation.
-1Lumifer7yLOL. It's not speculation, it's usually called "character assassination". The grandparent post has no relationship to reality whatsoever. Besides, if you really want to "impair employee judgement", a much simpler solution is just to hire dumb people.

You'd expect Silicon Valley working practices to be less optimal than those in mature industries, because, well, the industries aren't mature. The companies are often run by people with minimal management experience, and the companies themselves are too short-lived to develop the kind of institutional memory that would be able to determine whether such policies were good or bad. Heck, most of SV still follows interview practices that have been actively shown to be useless, to the extent that they've been abandoned by the company that originated them (Microsoft). Success is too random for these things to be noticeable; the truth is that in SV, being 50% less efficient probably has negligible effects on your odds of success, because the success or failure of a given company is massively overdetermined (in one direction or the other) by other factors.

The only people in a position to figure this kind of thing out, and then act on that knowledge, are the venture capitalists - and they're a long way removed from the action (and anyone smart has already left the business since it's not a good way of making money). Eventually I'd expect VCs to start insisting that companies adopt 40-hour policies, but it's going to take a long time for the signal to emerge from the noise.

and anyone smart has already left the business since it's not a good way of making money.

Can you elaborate? The impression I've gotten from multiple converging lines of evidence is that there are basically two kinds of VC firms: (1) a minority that actually know what they're doing, make money, and don't need any more investors and (2) the majority that exist because lots of rich people and institutions want to be invested in venture capital, can't get in on investing with the first group, and can't tell the two groups apart.

A similar pattern appears to occur in the hedge fund industry. In both cases, if you just look at the industry-wide stats, they look terrible, but that doesn't mean that Peter Thiel or George Soros aren't smart because they're still in the game.

You'd expect Silicon Valley working practices to be less optimal than those in mature industries, because, well, the industries aren't mature.

On the one hand, yes. On the other hand I expect the working practices of mature industries to have been formed during the times of typewriters and three-ring binders.

1John_Maxwell7yCan you be more specific? What do you think the factors that overdetermine a company's success are? I don't think I've heard of that many wildly successful companies in Silicon Valley with dysfunctional corporate cultures.
7Zubon7y
9Apprentice7yI have limited trust in a source which says things like that. Edited to add: More on Bock's learning ability [http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/23/opinion/sunday/friedman-how-to-get-a-job-at-google.html?hp&rref=opinion] : Yeah, nope.
7Princess_Stargirl7yI was about to post that quote too. Surely IQ has nothing to do with "ability to process on the fly" or "pull together disparate bits of information."

It's of course possible that this Bock guy knows what he's doing on the hiring front. But in these interviews he has no incentive to give Google's competitors coherent helpful information on how to hire people - and every incentive to send out obfuscated messages which might flatter the preconceptions of NYT readers.

I've pointed out in the past that in the Google context, range restriction is a problem (when everyone applying to Google is ultra-smart, smartness ceases to be a useful predictor), so Bock could be saying something true & interesting in picking out some other traits which vaguely sound like IQ but aren't (maybe 'processing speed'?), but then he or the writer are being very misleading (intentionally or unintentionally). I don't know which of these possibilities might be true.

Everyone who applies to Google is not ultra-smart. Far from it.

As a first-line interviewer, most people get rejected for being blatantly, horrifically incapable.

The perception that they are, unfortunately, causes many people who'd have a chance at acceptance to not even try. Anyone reading this, if you've thought about applying to Google and decided you don't have a chance, please think again! The opportunity costs are really low, and potentially negative; worst case you'll get a bit of interviewing experience.

8Petter7yNo, everyone who applies to Google is not ulta-smart but most who are hired are probably pretty smart. Given that everyone who are hired are smart, gwerns point is valid.
4Princess_Stargirl7ySorry if I was unclear. I am not claiming I understand why that article was written. But the quote is very funny.
3fubarobfusco7ySomething to keep in mind is that a large organization (like Google) may have pretty decentralized hiring practices. Even if Engineering interviewers believe that "brainteaser" questions are a bad idea, that doesn't mean Sales or Finance agrees. And a site called "Business Insider" may care more about Sales or Finance than Engineering ....

Not being a programmer, I don't know if this is relevant to silicon valley in particular, but people in general overestimate how many hours per week they work, and the greatest exaggeration is found among the people reporting the longest hours.

Full BLS report

Shorter NYT version

[-][anonymous]7y 10

Great find. From the NYT summary:

Men estimated spending a total of 23 hours on housework per week, versus the 10 hours they actually spent when forced to keep a time diary. Women estimated 32 hours versus 17 hours in the diary.

In contrast, many tech companies in silicon valley demand (or 'encourage', which is the same thing in practice) much higher work times. 70 or 80 hours per week are sometimes treated as normal.

Do you have data on this? It's not something I've observed at any of the small number of Silicon Valley tech companies I've worked at.

It's tempting to think that because Silicon Valley is a center of growth for the economy, if things are done a certain way in Silicon Valley, that's the best way to do them. But Silicon Valley has lots of unusual stuff going on. Some things hurt, some things help, and on balance the unusual stuff seems to help more than it hurts. Also, different companies do things differently.

Are these companies simply wrong and are actually hurting themselves by overextending their human resources? Or does the 40-hour week have exceptions?

See this Quora question answered by people who ought to know: https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-optimal-working-hours-in-an-early-stage-startup-in-terms-of-hours-per-person-per-day-if-you-want-to-maximize-chances-of-success Possible sampling bias: people who are busy working long hours successfully didn't answer the question.

My s... (read more)

I would probably be able to get the same amount of work done in a 30 or even 20 hour week, given the amount of time wasted on meetings/email/waiting for data in an average office. Boss wouldn't want to pay me the same for a 20hr work week though.

0Bruno_Coelho7yBet if companies cut in half the number of 'meetings', the productivity gain would be good enough to make a 40h/week for a lot of workers.
-3jpaulson7yI don't understand. Are you saying you could get 2x as much work done in your 40 hour week, or that due to dependencies on other people you cannot possibly do more than 20 hours of productive work per week no matter how many hours you are in the office?
2singularitard7yI suspect if you took a look at your life, there are a lot of things you don't understand.
-3jpaulson7yI think a more likely explanation is that people just like to complain. Why would people do things that everyone thought were a waste of time? (At my office, we have meetings and email too, but I usually think they are good ways to communicate with people and not a waste of time) Also, you didn't answer my question. It sounds like your answer is that you are compelled to waste 20 hours of time every week?
2singularitard7yI didn't answer your question because it was loaded and ridiculous. Quit feigning ignorance to bait for attention, you sad little boy

Are these companies simply wrong and are actually hurting themselves by overextending their human resources?

Yes, unquestionably. We've known how human productivity works for over 100 years now. This knowledge has been "forgotten" due to the effects of tough, largely unprotected labor markets. If the guy at the next desk over stays an hour later than you every day, he'll look like he's working harder, so he'll be less likely to get laid off. Once you have multiple people thinking that way and no opposing structure to encourage cooperation, you get a classic status arms race.

Why Crunch Modes Doesn't Work: Six Lessons

Executive Summary

When used long-term, Crunch Mode slows development and creates more bugs when compared with 40-hour weeks.

More than a century of studies show that long-term useful worker output is maximized near a five-day, 40-hour workweek. Productivity drops immediately upon starting overtime and continues to drop until, at approximately eight 60-hour weeks, the total work done is the same as what would have been done in eight 40-hour weeks.

In the short term, working over 21 hours continuously is equivalent to being legally drunk. Longer periods of conti

... (read more)
4Viliam_Bur7yThis, plus the known fact that most nerds can't cooperate [http://lesswrong.com/lw/3h/why_our_kind_cant_cooperate/]. So even when some programmers start noticing the pattern, there is always some idiot who just cannot resist the opportunity to show everyone how smart he is by volunteering to work harder and longer, in worse environment, etc.

I suspect that being young and having a high IQ (which is correlated with good health) raises the number of hours you should work if your goal is to maximize output. Plus, Modafinil, Adderall, and caffeine probably play a role here.

4Florian_Dietz7yI also think that is a possibility, especially the first part, but so far I couldn't find any data to back this up. As for drugs, I am not certain if boosting performance directly, as these drugs do, also affects the speed with which the brain recuperates from stress, which is the limiting factor in why 40 hour weeks are supposed to be good. I suspect that it will be difficult to find an unbiased study on this.
2James_Miller7yAdderall reduced my need for sleep.

The value of having a 40 hour work week probably depends on what you do in the other hours of the day.

If you spent all the time outside of work relaxing you will get more productive than if you spend your time outside of work in highly stressful activities.

If you employ a computer programmer who spends 80 hours per week in front of a computer regardless of whether he has a 40 hour or 80 hour work week, it might make sense to ensure that all of those hours are spent of his work.

Opensource programming in his free time comes likely out of the same budget of mental resources.

Can you link some of these studies? I am very interested in understanding why we work the amount we do.

0Florian_Dietz7yI didn't save the links, but you can find plenty of data by just googling something like "40 hour work week studies" or "optimal number of hours to work per week" and browsing the articles and their references. Though one interesting thing I read that isn't mentioned often is the fact that subjective productivity and objective productivity are not the same.
2IlyaShpitser7yIf you mean stuff like this: http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/169/5/596.full#ack-1 [http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/169/5/596.full#ack-1] that does not say what you probably think it says (because of the "healthy worker survivor effect.")
0Florian_Dietz7yNo, that's not what I mean. The studies I am talking about measure the productivity of the company and are not concerned with what happens to the workers.
3IlyaShpitser7yIt's difficult to talk about these supposed studies, since you didn't link any, but unless done carefully, they would also be vulnerable to the same issues as the grandparent (confounding over time, basically).

I think silicon valley is an atypical example compared to the typical workforce. We are presumably talking about the high end of the technological productivity spectrum. And as we know the tails come apart. I'd guess that a lot of special people cluster in these jobs. Sure the tech companies try a lot to make work convenient - but I think a lot of the people working there are at least partly such highly productive because they invested lots of time into technology all their life. Working long ours in your calling is normal.

Look at me: I work 40 'normal' ... (read more)

Two words: Interindividual differences.

They also recommend 8-9 hours sleep. Some people need more, some people need less. The same point applies to many different phenomena.

7Florian_Dietz7yTrue, and I suspect that this is the most likely explanation. However, there is the problem that unless need-for-rest is actually negatively correlated with the type of intelligence that is needed in tech companies, they should still have the same averages over all their workers and therefore also have the same optimum of 40 hours per work, at least on average. Otherwise we would see the same trends in other kinds of industry. Actually I just noticed that maybe this does happen in other industries as well and is just overreported in tech companies. Does anyone know something about this?

One argument for a longer work week:

You always have to do a fixed baseline of background work: Answering emails, meetings, filling out the forms for your company dental plan. Say that's 20 hours. So, a 60-hour week is not 50% more quality work-time (coding, etc.) than a 40-hour week, it is 100% more. Of course, it's best to arrange things to minimize the scut-work and focus on the highest-value effort.

Another argument: You want to avoid clock-watching. When you're hyped up, you work longer hours because you have the momentum and the urge to fix that one ... (read more)

0JoshuaFox7yThese are reflective-decision arguments: Do X to make sure your mind focuses on certain goals. If we were reflectively consistent we wouldn't need to fool our own minds. As with other forms of rationality, you will do better if you can maintain reflective consistency than if you try to hack your way around it.

I don't care this much about maximizing output for my company, period. I've been careful to avoid more Hill and SF-type take-over-your-life jobs, because I get a lot out of my flexible time (writing a book, offering hospitality to others, seeing theatre, building things) that I would not get out of a job and that are difficult to trade money for.

6gjm7yOf course it's eminently reasonable for you (or anyone) not to care that much about maximizing output for their employer. However, employers might care about maximizing output, and if it turns out that long working hours (which are surely not optimal for the employees) aren't even good for the employers then that's pretty interesting, no? And if that turned out to be true, and enough employers were convinced of it, then the range of options available to employees who don't want to work very long hours might increase a lot, which would also be interesting.
2palladias7yI suspect employers can make happy-enough-feeling employees by normalizing not having a life outside work.
1gjm7yAt least one of us is, I think, misunderstanding the other. If in fact it's the case that employees with shorter working hours are (not only happy-feeling but) more productive for their employers, then sensible employers who come to understand this will give their employees shorter working hours. Not to make them feel happy, but to make them more productive.
4palladias7yRight, I'm saying that I do think it's possible that people working 60hr weeks might be more productive while being unhappier than the 40hr people. I don't trust that happiness and productivity are tightly correlated enough that an employer trying to get more of the latter out of me will help me out with the former. Plus, there are a bunch of jobs that currently exist where the model is to extract a lot of productivity over 2-3 years while quashing an outside life and then to just hire a new crop of people when your current set burn out (TFA, I-banking, Hill jobs, etc).
2gjm7yI agree with all that. The only thing that puzzles me is that it looks as if you expect me not to, and I'm not sure how I gave that impression. Perhaps I should make it explicit that my comment four upthread from this one wasn't in any way trying to suggest that employers can be relied on to do what's best for their employees, or to criticize you for your choice of jobs, or anything like that. I got the impression that you were suggesting that the question of what working hours lead to max productivity is a duly one or a boring one or an improper one, which I don't think it is even though employees should be thinking about other things besides productivity-maximization.
[-][anonymous]7y 5

Average productivity or total productivity?

I work at Google, and I work ~40 hours a week. And that includes breakfast and lunch every day. As far as I can tell, this is typical (for Google).

I think you can get more done by working longer hours...up to a point, and for limited amounts of time. Loss in productivity still means the total work output is going up. I think the break-even point is 60h / week.

2ChristianKl7yDoes that figure take into account that the bug rate that you produce at 60h/week is going to be higher than at 40h/week?
1jpaulson7ySort of. My opinion takes that objection into account. But on the other hand, I don't have any data to quantitatively refute or support your point.
2Jiro7yIt was my understanding that Google provides free food for its employees partly because people who get company dinner are also expected to work past dinner hours. Is this false?
2jpaulson7yFalse. At a company-wide level, Google makes an effort to encourage work-life balance. Ultimately you need to produce a reasonable amount of output ("reasonable" as defined by your peers + manager). How it gets there doesn't really matter.
2Florian_Dietz7yI find it surprising to hear this, but it cleans up some confusion for me if it turns out that the major, successful companies in silicon valley do follow the 40 hour week.

In the videogame industry they have 80 hour work weeks all the time. They can get away with it because of employee turnover. If you burn out and quit, there's a line of people who'd be happy to take your place.

In other areas you still have managers and executives whose performance is evaluated on short-term results, so they will push the team to work hard, gain political points and move on.

4DeterminateJacobian7yThis does not match my experience. I've seen very few people actually work 80 hours a week more than once even in a crunch cycle, and this matches an informal survey result [https://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.igda.org/resource/collection/9215B88F-2AA3-4471-B44D-B5D58FF25DC7/IGDA_DSS_2014-Summary_Report.pdf] which shows a distribution that peaks around 44 for normal work hours and 57 during crunch (page 21). I also haven't experienced there being a line of people ready to take the place of turned over employees. Maybe there are many who would be happy to, but not nearly enough are talented enough to. The game industry has a market for employee talent just like any other, and it were ever the case that there was mass unemployment of qualified game developers, you would see those developers starting companies (as we are actually seeing recently). I was surprised to see that, according to the same study above, the median tenure in the game industry is only 2 years, which you may have to take with the caveat it doesn't give details about how contractors and starving indies were meant to respond to the question. The median tenure for the entire U.S. economy is 4.4 [http://www.bls.gov/news.release/tenure.nr0.htm], but possibly the better comparison is for 25-34 year-olds, for whom the median is 3.0.
4cousin_it7yYeah, my "80 hours" was an overstatement. Though maybe you can replace it with 60 and the message will still stand. Indie game development isn't very profitable, and unemployed game developers can easily switch to normal software jobs instead. So for every one who starts their own indie thing, there's probably several more who leave the industry.
2DeterminateJacobian7yYeah, leaving the industry is extremely common, but in my opinion not outcome-optimal for the employers who are driving their employees to extremes (or, more commonly, not encouraging normalcy). There are indeed young recruits who are willing to come in and spend huge amounts of time and effort on game projects, but there is huge variance in work quality in this group, such that the flipside of fast, positive work from a talented, unstable, young programmer is the risk of losing time on poor work from a weak, unstable, young programmer... with little way to know the difference. A senior engineer at 40 hours is substantially better than a junior engineer at 80 hours, and so companies probably should invest more to keep talent on future projects, which is of course hard to do when crunch rolls around on the current project. I used to hear this saying around the industry: "When you're on the outside of games, it seems like nobody is looking to hire good talent. When you're on the inside, it seems like there's nobody talented applying."

Theory: It's all about signalling commitment to investors. A startup doesn't produce anything until it goes gold on it's product or gets bought out by a tech giant who then takes their product to completion. So it has no cash flow at all until hopefully at the end a dump truck full of money pulls up and buries everyone in wealth. Up until that day, what pays salaries - what keeps your company employees from starving to death in the street - is investors who believe in your idea and your product. And while working a forty hour week for the duration (and t... (read more)

Do you know of any studies that address these issues?

In a sense, Silicon Valley is an ongoing study. Here you have a very large number of firms in a competitive environment, with low cost of entry, each firm looking for a productivity edge over their rivals. If holding the work-week down to 40 hours really made their employees more productive, don't you think you'd see lots of successful firms that have tried it?

And yes, I'm aware that there's signalling going on, but you'd still expect to see some successful firms that worked like that. Moreover, Silic... (read more)

Increasing the work week generally provides a short-term and more easily measured benefit (getting this project done sooner) but long-term and harder to measure harms (higher error rate and higher maintenance cost). Bean-counters are notoriously bad at trading off short-term benefit for long-term harm, and at preferring benefits which are easy to measure.

1paulfchristiano7yAs far as I can tell, the people furthest from bean-counters work the longest hours.
0[anonymous]7ySource?

The problem is that during the industrial revolution it also took a long time because people caught on that 40 hours per week were more effective. It is really hard to reliably measure performance in the long term. Managers are discouraged from advocating a 40 hour work week since this flies in the face of the prevailing attitude. If they fail, they will almost definitely be fired since 'more work'->'more productivity' is the common sense answer, whether or not it is true. It would not be worth the risk for any individual manager to try this unless the order came from the top. Of course, this is not an argument in favor of the 40 hour week, it just shows that this could just as well be explained by a viral meme as by reasonable decisions.

This is part of the reason why I find it so hard to find any objective information on this.

1Salemicus7yBut that's why I emphasised that Silicon Valley is full of startups, where there aren't risk-averse middle-managers trying to signal conformance to the prevailing attitude. Note too that there have been a wide variety of idiosyncratic founders. And because of the high turnover and survivorship bias, the startups we see today are biased towards the most long-term productive compared to all of those set up. Yet those companies behave in the exact opposite way to what your theory would predict. If shorter work-weeks really are more productive, why don't we see successful companies using them? Your explanation makes sense in terms of a government bureaucracy; much less so in a startup hub.
7Jiro7yA few ideas that occurred to me offhand: -- long hours could be legitimately beneficial to startups, without being beneficial to companies in general -- willingness to work long hours could be correlated with other traits that make the worker do well for he company, such as enthusiasm -- related, willingness to work long hours may simply be correlated with other traits that lead the worker to work for a startup at all. For instance, young people without families are more willing to work long hours, and also more willing to take risky jobs such as at starups. -- long hours could be part of a race towards the bottom, where any individual company that has its workers working longer hours does better, but if all the competing companies do it, they're all worse off than if nobody does it. This could happen if working long hours lets the company get a larger share of a finite resource (such as market share) without increasing the size of that resource -- signalling competitions between individual workers could lead to the workers all working longer. The absence of middle managers only eliminates certain types of signalling, not all signalling
5Florian_Dietz7yThat's what I'm asking you! This isn't my theory. This is a theory that has been around for a hundred years and that practically every industry follows, apparently with great success. From what I have read, the 40 hour work week was not invented by the workers, but by the companies themselves, who realized that working people too hard drives down their output and that 40 hours per week is the sweet spot, according to productivity studies. Then along comes silicon valley, with a completely different philosophy, and somehow that also works. I have no idea why, and that's what I made this thread to ask.

This is a theory that has been around for a hundred years

Do note that a hundred years ago workers performed mostly physical labor and estimates of physical endurance do not have to be similar to estimates of mental endurance.

5Salemicus7yBut Silicon Valley doesn't have a completely different philosophy from similar professions. Do doctors, lawyers, financiers, small businessmen, etc, typically work only 40 hours? To suggest it is to laugh. If anything, they work longer hours than software engineers. The 40-hour week you're talking about is a norm among factory workers, which is an entirely different type of labour.
0Lumifer7ySilicon Valley also provides the opportunity for frequent fun breaks -- google Google (that is, search on the 'net for images of Google offices :-D).
2IlyaShpitser7yOk, I think it's becoming increasingly obvious you don't know how the 40 hour work week came to be, country by country. There were huge worker movements for decreasing the work hours. Many countries achieved these working conditions only eventually and by getting an appropriate labor reform law passed. And the stories behind such laws differed vastly depending on the country. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- So I am forced to ask -- what is it that you have been reading? Can you link it?
-1Azathoth1237ySo why is industrial production being relocated to countries without 40 hour work week laws?
4Protagoras7yBecause those countries also have lower labor costs, so executives can report that they're saving money on labor costs and their company's stock will go up. More cynically, international operations require more management (to keep on top of shipping issues and deal with different government circumstances in the different countries where operations are going on), and the managers who make such decisions may approve of an outcome where more is spent on management and less on labor. Most of the research I've heard of suggests that it is not because such relocations are overall more profitable; that's very rarely the case.
-2Azathoth1237yExcept that the products made in these countries are in fact cheaper.
0Azathoth1237yWere they actually more effective? True, they are currently used in developed countries, but that's because they are required by law. Meanwhile, most industrial production is moving out of developed countries.

Probably has something to do with the American work morality--the zealousness we apply any religion can only weep in envy of. We believe/have been brainwashed into believing work is what we were born to do. As to how much we should do; I'm not sure this is a question for psychological studies so much as a question of how much (and of what kind of) work we actually want to do. It's like asking how many hours one should spend cleaning their house; one balances a cleanliness level one can live with against time one would rather spend doing something else.

Remember that in issues of optimization, the question is always, "for what am I optimizing?" Startups have to scale as quickly as possible, or they'll run out of money or be supplanted by a competitor. A startup team pumps all their effort into a 2 to 5 year period, after which point they'll likely have achieved dominance in their market, been bought by a larger company, or failed. The game is short, and the payoff is bimodal (either very high or close-to nothing). Workign one's self into the ground for a few years to come out a millionaire maybe... (read more)

The 40 hour work week is a sweeping kind of a claim you wouldn't accept in any other context. It's like saying that to maximize the benefits of physical exercise, you shouldn't work out more than 10 hours a week, then proceeding to ignore the type of benefit you're looking for, anatomy, intensity, intervals, session length, fun, safety, individual talent etc.

I've seen frequent claims on LW that shorter hours are better for productivity, but very little data to back them up. Why don't people quote some studies so that we can scrutinize them to see if they a... (read more)

4gjm7y"You people"? Allow me to suggest that lowering the level of hostility and contempt a notch might make productive discussion more likely.
-1hyporational7yI'm not sure if you're serious or humorously playing the oppressed minority card. I fail to register contempt or hostility in the comment. Just trying to be a bit more lively. Chillax. I consider myself one of the people I'm "you peopleing" anyways. Edited the last sentence to seem less accusatory.
6gjm7ySerious (and not particularly considering myself part of any oppressed minority). My experience is that addressing any group as "you people" is a near-infallible sign of hostility and contempt, with (not always but often) a side order of prejudice against whatever (political, religious, philosophical, social-class, ...) group "you people" might be part of. Maybe my experience is atypical, or maybe yours is. You might want to do a bit of googling and see how the phrase is used and how it's perceived; if your impression on doing so accords with mine, you'll probably want to avoid using it when you don't want to signal hostility and contempt. My mental autocompleter matches "you people" to things like "you people are all the same", "what the ---- is wrong with you people", etc. (I note that urbandictionary.com's second definition for "you people" is "Blacks". For what it's worth, that isn't something I read into it -- though I see there's a similar suggestion on wiktionary, so maybe it isn't just urbandictionary.com being flaky.)
3hyporational7yIf your reaction to the phrase is even slightly frequent then I might want to address people in a more neutral way. Is "you guys" better or am I being sexist now? Is just "people" better? Suggestions? Maybe I should go all medical and drop pronouns altogether just to be sure :) Since I'm not a native speaker my connotation-o-meter isn't always amazingly tuned. The issue is amplified when I think and type quickly. Since you're a native speaker I suppose your experience is more typical than mine, so I'll avoid "you peopleing" in the future unless I want to be extra cheeky. You might want to better take into account the amount of non-native speakers here next time you're instinctively reading between the lines. Anyways I'm glad I learned something new about connotations again.
6gjm7y"You guys" has absolutely none of the hostile/contemptuous feeling that "you people" has (at least for me). It's distinctly informal and (as you surmise) some people may interpret it as sexist. I think I'd generally just say "you" and, if necessary, make it explicit what particular group I had in mind. It hadn't occurred to me that you might not be a native English speaker; sorry about that. I guess it's one of the perils of speaking the language very well :-).
2Sean_o_h7yAs another non-native speaker, I frequently find myself looking for a "plural you" in English, which was what I read hyporational's phrase as trying to convey. Useful feedback not to use 'you people'.
0Lumifer7yI do, on occasion, start sentences with "you people" which is a sign that (a) I'm not very serious about the issue; and (b) consider myself to be noticeably different from those I'm addressing. I do NOT use it to signal hostility and contempt, though I'm aware that some people do. Context matters.
4gjm7yYup, context matters. However, you should consider the possibility that an appreciable fraction of your audience will fail to read your mind, and will (consciously or not) take your "you people" as indicating hostility, which you probably don't want. (Though ... it sounds as if you're talking about a use of the phrase with a rather different structure from the one we're discussing here: using it vocatively at the start of the sentence. "Hey, you people, listen up! Blah blah blah." or something like that. I don't think I've ever heard that done; it would strike me as rather odd, but not as hostile and dismissive in the same way as the sort of usage I thought we were discussing.)
-4Lumifer7yNo, I use it in the, ahem, traditional structure along the lines of "Now what you people fail to understand is that...". I understand that some people might read it as hostility. That's fine. I usually scatter enough hints in the text for the clueful people to figure out I'm not actually foaming at the mouth, plus I prefer to have a bit of ambiguity mixed in -- it adds flavour :-)
2gjm7y(I am commenting only to remark that it was not I who downvoted you.)
-2Lumifer7yThanks for the concern :-) though I don't care much about downvotes.
2[anonymous]7yOff the top of my head, in very roughly decreasing order, sleeping, browsing the web, hanging out with friends at the pub, playing the bass, listening to music, having sex, studying languages, eating, cooking, going shopping, reading books, watching movies, sightseeing. Many of the things in my previous paragraph have very few people doing them for a living. And there are reasons for that.
-2hyporational7yI don't consider sleeping, cooking, eating or having sex free time, I consider them maintenance :) Anyways my point is that most of the things you listed are definitely work for the brain, yet people don't think they affect your ability to be productive at work, since they're not something you're paid to do, which I don't think makes much sense.
2[anonymous]7yIf I mostly lived on Soylent or Mealsquares you'd have a point. Given that I often-ish go out to restaurants... Well, not all the things on that list are the same: arguing that someone is wrong on the internet [http://xkcd.com/386/] may drain my stamina almost as much as my paid job, but chatting over a beer occasionally glancing at the TV will drain my stamina almost as little as idly daydreaming -- possibly even less, depending on what I'm daydreaming about.
2[anonymous]7yIt totally does. First, there are these effects [http://lesswrong.com/lw/4e/cached_selves/], and second, as I said, there are reasons why they're not something you're paid to do.
-2hyporational7yI'm not paid to listen to music I like but I might need to be paid to listen to music you like. Same deal with browsing your websites, reading your books and watching your movies. If you're enjoying your work and having your cached selves do most of it, what's the big deal with long hours? How will they impact your productivity, if having ridiculously meticulous conversations on your favorite website doesn't?
2[anonymous]7yWell, but the fact that it's the music I choose to listen to etc. means it doesn't drain my willpower as much. See also this [http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/05/25/apologia-pro-vita-sua/]. Actually I meant the part of that post where if you pay someone to do something they'll enjoy doing it less. Less time left to do the other things I mentioned? Certain things are terminal values; fiat currency isn't one of those. (Granted, I don't only do my current job for the cash, but I wouldn't spend as much time on it if I didn't need money.)

I'd like to note the sheer volume of people in the wider startup ecosystem generating reasons why they are smarter than science when this is brought up.

Let's investigate how little "evidence" they need before they completely ignore said research:

Many have the unmeasured, ridiculously unreliable anecdata "I produce amortized peak output working at a higher number of hours per week" (it's hard to tell that anyone has actually tried looking before claiming it, though: work 6 months at 40 hours/week and another 6 months at 70/hours a week... (read more)

0ChristianKl7ySoftware programmers also frequently argue that it's impossible to measure software productivity.
1hawkice7yAs a software programmer myself I can say that's a pretty bizarre argument to make. Informally, almost all experts have a tool/language they feel gives them an advantage, and language holy wars are all about this topic. Doesn't mean they aren't just making it up, but worth considering that people saying "Node is better than Rails!" "TDD is better than !" can't simultaneously claim "There is no way to order different approaches by productivity". But in fact, they is a way, and such measurement has been happening for long enough for us to develop reasonably accurate models of how it changes over time e.g. due to tools getting better, see Yannis' Law, which I confirmed myself a couple months ago (example task took me about five minutes not including when I read the description, so I'm within a factor of 2 of predictions -- I think we may need a better task in a decade or so, it's rapidly approaching weird task-size-minimums). http://cgi.di.uoa.gr/~smaragd/law.html [http://cgi.di.uoa.gr/~smaragd/law.html]

For these kinds of startups, everyone working is also an investor or owner or is otherwise hitched to the startup's survival. Working extra long hours can be a signal to investors in two ways. First, the workers believe in the idea enough to work double time. Second, the path to knowing whether the investment is worth another investment round will come sooner.