Overtime Kills Productivity

I wrote a long article for SiliconAngle on research into overtime and the 40 hour work week. It turns out that in most cases overtime and lack of sleep do more harm than good:

Facebook COO Sharyl Sandberg has kicked up a mini-controversy by admitting to Makers.com that she leaves the office at 5:30PM every day, and has done so for years. In the Valley, where work is a religion, leaving early is heresy.

Earlier this week “Jon” published The 501 Developer Manifesto, a call for developers to spend less time working.These calls for less time at the office are counter balanced by a recent talk by Google executive Marissa Mayer at an 92|Y event. Mayer dismissed the phenomena of “burn out” as resentment and boasted of working 130 hours a week at times.

Research suggests that Sandberg is probably the more productive executive, and those 501ers may be on to something. In a lengthy essay titled “Bring back the 40-hour work week,” Alternet editor Sara Robinson looks at the history of long working hours and reminds us why the 40 hour limit was imposed in the first place: working more than 40 hours a week has been shown to be counterproductive. It’s a relevant conversation for IT workers, who according to ComputerWorld average 71 hours of work per week.

DevOpsAngle: What Research Says About Working Long Hours


  1. ” boasted of working 130 hours a week at times” – ‘facepalm’ – there’s a mass of medical problems waiting to happen. Even if she’s one of those rare people who can do this for years on end without suffering severe medical consequences or seeing her personal relationships blow up, the great majority of IT people are NOT. This sort of macho craziness should have disappeared from high tech a generation ago.

    She may be OK in a decade, though I suspect that there’s already a betting pool at google on the topic “when will Marissa Mayer be in the hospital for serious health problems?”.

    The great majority of people who follow this idiotic example will NOT be OK and will be costing their employers thousands a year each in medical premiums should they happen to have medical insurance.

    I expect this sort of thing from 25 year old kids on their first startup. In a startup, the occasional 60+ hour work week is inevitable and bad planning means lots of 60 hour work weeks.

    Google is no longer a startup.

    • I doubt she or anyone else at Google actually works 130 hours a week every week, but if you look at the construction productivity data and the sleep deprivation data, working 130 hours in just one week is probably counterproductive.

  2. Yipee! Finally someone else than me and the scientists who do the research say it. Yes, overtime (especially regular and/or excessive overtime) kills productivity, and it’s a mistake to think otherwise. I’m teaching all my clients that, but sometimes it takes time for them to accept it.

    This being said, I spent time with software developers in a former life, and I noticed something interesting: I was working from 9 to 6, leaving at 6 because I was exhausted, while most of my colleagues would work for 10 hours or more. When I tried to understand how this happened, I noticed something: I was working-working for 8 hours. They were frequently taking breaks: playing a game, smoking a cigarette, surfing the web, etc. So while there were in the office for longer periods of time than I was, they were not working anywhere near the 60+ hours they claimed…

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