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The Compelling Case For Working Less (bbc.com) 176

An anonymous reader shares a report from the BBC, written by Amanda Ruggeri: As we fill our days with more and more "doing," many of us are finding that non-stop activity isn't the apotheosis of productivity. It is its adversary. Researchers are learning that it doesn't just mean that the work we produce at the end of a 14-hour day is of worse quality than when we're fresh. This pattern of working also undermines our creativity and our cognition. Over time, it can make us feel physically sick -- and even, ironically, as if we have no purpose. Think of mental work as doing push-ups, says Josh Davis, author of Two Awesome Hours. Say you want to do 10,000. The most 'efficient' way would be to do them all at once without a break. We know instinctively, though, that that is impossible. Instead, if we did just a few at a time, between other activities and stretched out over weeks, hitting 10,000 would become far more feasible. "The brain is very much like a muscle in this respect," Davis writes. "Set up the wrong conditions through constant work and we can accomplish little. Set up the right conditions and there is probably little we can't do." Many of us, though, tend to think of our brains not as muscles, but as a computer: a machine capable of constant work. Not only is that untrue, but pushing ourselves to work for hours without a break can be harmful, some experts say. Ruggeri goes on to highlight the negative health effects associated with working long hours. "One meta-analysis found that long working hours increased the risk of coronary heart disease by 40% -- almost as much as smoking (50%)," she writes. "Another found that people who worked long hours had a significantly higher risk of stroke, while people who worked more than 11 hours a day were almost 2.5 times more likely to have a major depressive episode than those who worked seven to eight."

The Compelling Case For Working Less

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  • Work less (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rodrigoandrade ( 713371 ) on Tuesday December 05, 2017 @08:02AM (#55679237)
    Until you get fired and replaced by an immigrant who works more for less.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      This doesn't have much to do with immigration. The race-to-the-bottom works just fine with locals.

      What you need to have is a strong (independent and non-corrupt) labor union to ensure the employer offers the same employment conditions to different people for the same position, so employers can't do this.

      • Re:Work less (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Austerity Empowers ( 669817 ) on Tuesday December 05, 2017 @08:28AM (#55679347)

        What you need to have is a strong (independent and non-corrupt) labor union

        Alas, no unicorns have been spotted in these parts, and local statute requires they are killed on sight.

        • That is because uou have guilds, not unions. A guild will protect the job. E.g. a writers guild. A union will protect the people.

          Living in Belgium as an adult you can join almost any union. No matter what job you have or even if you have a job. You can join any moment and nobody cares if you are union or not.

          • You can join any moment and nobody cares if you are union or not.

            I'm curious about this, not to be combative:
            1) You can join at any time, but you pay dues right?
            2) The people who have been in the union for a long time have more pull with leadership, right? (They have paid in, after all)
            3) Who negotiates your wages/conditions when you take a job?
            4) If you dispute your union's leadership, and believe they are in the wrong somehow, and you do not support the actions they take to achieve their objective, what

      • by plopez ( 54068 )

        Or Capitalism with a human face which actually pursues scientific management. As another poster put it, no unicorns have been spotted in these parts.

    • 14-hour day should be X2 OT or more and that immigrant needs to be pay at least $90-$110K.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Six hours per day, five days a week is considered "full time" here.

      I could never understand why Americans burn themselves out working eight or more a day. They live to work, whereas we work to live.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jedidiah ( 1196 )

        Don't believe the hype. They don't actually work that hard. Any genuine workaholism is relegated to a very tiny part of the country. Everywhere else, you are lucky to see 6 hours of productivity out of American workers in an entire week.

        • Re:Work less (Score:5, Interesting)

          by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Tuesday December 05, 2017 @08:42AM (#55679427) Journal
          There was a study a little over 10 years ago that measured productivity in a variety of 'knowledge worker' applications and concluded that productivity peaks at about 20 hours per week, then plateaus to about 40, and then drops off. This is particularly noticeable in something like programming, where a small mistake made when tired and not thinking straight can lead to 10 hours of debugging the next week. People who work a solid 4-5 hours a day are likely to be a lot more productive than people who are physically present and trying to work for 10.
          • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

            There's been a lot of research on this, going back a long time, but what is old is new again.

            The Brits did studies in WWII to maximize factory production. It turns out your maximum productivity working an assembly line in a life-or-Nazi-occupation scenario is 40 hours / week.

        • by Anonymous Coward
          Yeah in general that's true. Actual productive hours typically seem to average around 6 or so. Why bother forcing more if it's unproductive? Because as an employer you can churn and burn. I've experienced *many* dysfunctional environments in s/w dev (both startups and large companies) where the expectation is *always* 8+ hours of daily intense productivity to meet objectives, and *often* 12-14 hours to get things done in crunch mode that may last weeks. I had a brain hemorrhage after one such stretch of to
        • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

          Productivity yes. Actual studies put that number even lower, around 3-4 hours / day.

          But lots of managers have a butts in seats style: if you butt is in your seat you're working, if it isn't, you aren't. Sitting at work reading Slashdot or Facebook isn't contributing to your relaxation and future productivity, it's truly wasted time.

      • Re:Work less (Score:5, Insightful)

        by kilfarsnar ( 561956 ) on Tuesday December 05, 2017 @09:27AM (#55679633)

        Six hours per day, five days a week is considered "full time" here.

        I could never understand why Americans burn themselves out working eight or more a day. They live to work, whereas we work to live.

        Americans are kept in a state of anxiety about their jobs and livelihood. From advertisers to the news media, to big business, to the government, everyone has an interest in scaring the American people toward their own ends.

        • It's self-imposed. You work hard to keep up with everyone else and by the time you realize it's bullshit, you're unwilling to admit it because you've missed out on so much of your personal life. Admitting you didn't need to be at the office instead of your son's baseball games is painful and makes you feel like a fraud.
    • Re:Work less (Score:5, Interesting)

      by EndlessNameless ( 673105 ) on Tuesday December 05, 2017 @11:40AM (#55680499)

      The 40-hour work week was established by law. We can just as easily establish a 30- or 35-hour work week.

      We could also remove the overtime exemptions so that managers, programmers, etc are all eligible for overtime. Companies only have the power to treat people like garbage because we let them do it.

      Those laws should apply equally to immigrants too. Even if you're more concerned with limiting immigration rather than want to protecting immigrants, it's still a good idea to give them full legal protections. This eliminates some of the incentive to hire them in the first place.

  • Honestly (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GeekWithAKnife ( 2717871 ) on Tuesday December 05, 2017 @08:05AM (#55679255)

    From working cash in hand jobs as a teen to a couple of decades later, the less I work the more I earn.

    I was always led to believe the inverse is true.
  • by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Tuesday December 05, 2017 @08:13AM (#55679281)

    We're productive enough as a society that we could probably get by on a 20 hour work week.

    So what happens then? Well, it's obviously fairly sustainable to work 40 hours per week... so someone's going to get two jobs with opposing schedules so they can have a nicer house.

    When they do that, someone else won't have a job opportunity and they'll lower their income expectations. The economy will slowly adjust to the practical reality that people will work 40 hours a week for a standard wage, and then 20 hours won't be enough for food and shelter any longer and everyone will have to have two jobs instead of one.

    Then you're right back to where we are now.

    • You would need jobs with congruent schedules, not opposing schedules.
    • That already happens, people will get a full time job and then a part time job to make ends meet. Or in some cases multiple part time jobs. This isn't unusual in the US, it's the norm for people on low incomes, and it's probably ultimately devastating both for the people involved and for productivity.

      I doubt moving to a four hour day (or rather a three day week) would actually result in much of a rise in the number of people doing this (assuming total pay remains the same or in the same ballpark), as most

      • by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Tuesday December 05, 2017 @09:47AM (#55679723)

        The last time I am aware something similar happened was when women entered the workforce in significant numbers post-WWII.

        It used to be very common for women to not enter the workforce, and families did OK (for the times... poor buggers didn't have Internet, home theatres, or microwave ovens!). After women entered the workforce, it didn't take long for two incomes to become standard (even if it took a long time for women to commonly start doing the same kind of work as men after the war effort).

        And what's happened since? Having one person stay home is now the exception rather than the rule, and it's generally considered a strain on the family finances if only one person in a couple is working.

        Society adjusted to the near-doubling of the work force to ensure all the little cogs were kept turning for as much of the day as possible.

        • by Kjella ( 173770 )

          It used to be very common for women to not enter the workforce, and families did OK (for the times... poor buggers didn't have Internet, home theatres, or microwave ovens!). (...) And what's happened since? Having one person stay home is now the exception rather than the rule, and it's generally considered a strain on the family finances if only one person in a couple is working.

          So... a normal income is determined by how much a normal family works? I'm shocked, I tell you. If "everyone else" started working and you were a stay-at-home mom would you expect not to lag behind? That's basically saying that what women do at work is worthless. You could life off one income, you choose not to because everyone else has two and you want to have what they have. I think that if you were warped back 50 years to 1967 wages and prices and tried that gig you'd find that they didn't actually have

    • Something similar happened in the 1970s in the Netherlands. Before that, women were not required to have/look for a job. When the law changed, labor participation of women rose steeply, average household income rose as well (2 incomes instead of just one), which led to a steep rise in housing cost. The end result is that buying a house is no longer affordable for singles and single-income families.

    • We're productive enough as a society that we could probably get by on a 20 hour work week.

      So what happens then? Well, it's obviously fairly sustainable to work 40 hours per week... so someone's going to get two jobs with opposing schedules so they can have a nicer house.

      When they do that, someone else won't have a job opportunity and they'll lower their income expectations. The economy will slowly adjust to the practical reality that people will work 40 hours a week for a standard wage, and then 20 hours won't be enough for food and shelter any longer and everyone will have to have two jobs instead of one.

      Then you're right back to where we are now.

      If I could maintain my current lifestyle, while working a 20 hour week, I certainly would not get a second job.

      • >If I could maintain my current lifestyle, while working a 20 hour week, I certainly would not get a second job.

        That's the point... you can't maintain your lifestyle because OTHER people will gladly pick up a second job so they can have more stuff. Eventually that kind of choice puts downward pressure on wages until everyone has to work 40 hours again just to keep up.

        • >If I could maintain my current lifestyle, while working a 20 hour week, I certainly would not get a second job.

          That's the point... you can't maintain your lifestyle because OTHER people will gladly pick up a second job so they can have more stuff. Eventually that kind of choice puts downward pressure on wages until everyone has to work 40 hours again just to keep up.

          A partial solution would be to make it illegal to work more than 20 hours per week and/or mandatory vacation. I say partial solution because if you could only legally work 20 hours a week, you would likely see a lot more people doing projects in their spare time like fixing up a car for extra income. I think this would still be a net win though as it would encourage entrepreneurship.

    • Not really. Remember wages are paid by consumers: you need the revenue stream to make payroll. Wages are just labor hours at exchange rate.

      In a population which works 20% less, 20% less is produced, and wealth drops by 20%. Sliding wages as a whole doesn't change relative consumer buying power: your consumers are just 20% poorer and can only afford to buy 20% less.

      I have a path to a 32-hour work week. It involves taking productivity increases in part by reducing full-time working hours, slowly mar

      • by be951 ( 772934 )

        In a population which works 20% less, 20% less is produced, and wealth drops by 20%.

        Possible, but unlikely. If you mean that 20% less work is actually done, perhaps. But only if the 20% of work not being done is average with respect to the wealth it produces. However, working 20% fewer hours does not mean less work will get done. Some research mentioned in the article indicates that office workers spend less than 3 hours per workday actually doing productive work.It also mentions that the then-standard 10 hour workday was changed to 8 hours early in the 20th century because it made worker

        • Possible, but unlikely. If you mean that 20% less work is actually done, perhaps. But only if the 20% of work not being done is average with respect to the wealth it produces. However, working 20% fewer hours does not mean less work will get done.

          Oh come now, you can do better than that.

          The major assumption is that most productive work done is full-time. Problem is service work is 100% productive: all service jobs rely on time coverage, rather than strict output. That means you need those grocery cashiers and waitresses on staff continuously, even if the place is more or less slow within the variation of what requires a minimum of and no more than X people. Much service work is also part-time; whereas full-time work often involves problem-solv

          • by be951 ( 772934 )

            The major assumption is that most productive work done is full-time.

            No such assumption is made (by me) or required. Full time work simply provides a basis for comparing time spent working vs. productive time.

            Problem is service work is 100% productive

            That's not what "productive" means, particularly in this context where we are talking about income/wealth produced relative to hours worked. It may be necessary to have that coverage, but if there are no customers during an hour, no revenue (nor profit nor wealth) is produced during that time, so you could hardly say that a worker working during that time was productive

            • That's not what "productive" means, particularly in this context where we are talking about income/wealth produced relative to hours worked.

              Actually, it's impossible to measure proportional productivity in any way other than time at maximum productivity. Technological progress can always increase the amount produced per unit time worked, so the theoretical productivity would be 1/inf or 0% at all times; whereas the productivity of a worker using whatever tools at hand top out at a maximum. If the worker operates at half that maximum output, he's 50% productive.

              Thing is some jobs are uneven in terms of available work, and can be "caught up".

    • by be951 ( 772934 )

      I'm not sure why you would think that, since we have gone from 12-14+ hour workdays (six days a week) being typical to today's standard of 8 hours per day for 5 days.

      Of course, many people work outside the standard, working more or fewer days and more or fewer hours -- some due to unusual job requirements, some due to necessity resulting from low wages, some simply to have more, like the theoretical case you described. But 40 hours is now the standard and around 47 is the average put in by U.S. full-time w

    • That can be corrected with taxation. E.g if my company asks me to do overtime and they give me double pay, i would still be short, do it is not worth it. Simplidication:
      First 20 hours standard taxation standard tax. Everything over 100%tax. Now how many are willing to work more?
      This is exttemely simplified.

      • First 20 hours standard taxation standard tax. Everything over 100%tax. Now how many are willing to work more?
        This is exttemely simplified.

        Overly easy to game, no matter how convoluted you make the laws. The thing about overtime pay is that at least one party has an incentive to make sure the law is followed, so while it is gamed, at least there is a check on it.

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      The solution to that problem is progressive taxation.

      Go ahead and work two jobs if money is that important to you, but don't expect to make twice the money.

      The slope of the tax rate changes the set point for how much the average person finds it worthwhile to work.

    • Whoa, whoa, whoa. You can't propose a theory like that without listing the assumptions. You've assumed:

      1) Unemployment in this scenario is low and someone looking to work two jobs can easily find two jobs with offsetting schedules because employers badly need workers.
      2) Working a second job means you took it from someone else who needed it (again, most likely to be the case during low unemployment).
      3) Someone who could work 20 hours a week to get by is willing to work 40 hours a week in a pinch for the ex

  • by Anonymous Coward

    You won't get more than 6 hours of productive work from a knowledge worker. They can be there for longer, but they could do their shit faster and head home, and there would be no difference in output.

    • by Kiuas ( 1084567 ) on Tuesday December 05, 2017 @08:41AM (#55679419)

      You won't get more than 6 hours of productive work from a knowledge worker. They can be there for longer, but they could do their shit faster and head home, and there would be no difference in output.

      This is indeed true and backed up by studies and experiments [bloomberg.com].

      The 8 hour work day is by and large a remnant of the industrialization when factories needed to be ran in 3 shifts. When you're talking about a monotonous, assembly line type of a job, 8 hours lets you get by with just 3 shifts instead of 4 which saves cost and the productivity difference in those kinds of jobs was not too noticeable.

      However, when you start talking about anything that requires more than performing a simple manual task over and over again, 8 hours starts to be too much. When you combine this with the fact that the need for time-consuming manual tasks is going down as automation and AIs increase it starts to make even more sense to cut down the length of the workday.

      Personally as a project manager on almost all days I can get the relevant stuff done in 6 hours or under, the main exceptions being the days when there happens to be several meetings that require travelling between locations, and even then the extra time is spent on the road instead of doing something productive. I'd happily have my work time reduced to 6 hours provided the pay stays the same. And herein lies the core problem with this situation: we know that cutting down work time will increase efficiency, but we still evaluate and pay workers based on 'time spent at workstation' so the intuition of corporations is that if worktime is cut, pay must also be cut.

      In other words: the basic assumption that people are paid 'for their time' needs to be done away with in knowledge work especially and replaced with paying people for working outcomes.

    • I wonder if it would work better to have people working on a per-day basis. Then again, that would require less concretely observed metrics than simple "hours worked."
      • great idea bob.

        Jay you have to work M 0:00 to W 23:59 and you only get paid for 3 days for a 72 hour work week.

  • As long as the goverrnment finds virtue in people working 40 hours a week and incititing it by knowingly inflating away their earnings and taxing the rest people will continue to be on the long hamster wheel.

  • It means they have to be paid more. But as automation and outsourcing devalues their labor they're going to be worth less. That's just supply and demand. So of they're going to work less the people who pay them are going to have to be forced to pay them more, probably with an underlying threat (e.g. of you don't pay your taxes you go to jail). Now, I'm a socialist so I'm fine with that, but how about the rest out there? Forget logic and reason, how does it make you feel?
    • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

      Sterilize those that aren't productive.

      People misunderstand socialism. The heavy socialist countries don't let you lay around and do nothing. Even the original Marx implies that everyone is supposed to work.

      • Sterilize those that aren't productive.

        Wait, I would get to be a lazy bastard and not have to take care of children? Sign me up, that's a win-win!

    • Automation makes labor worth more, not less. The amount of goods produced by one unit of labor is amplified by automation.

  • 17 years ago, I had a one year contract with unlimited overtime, all meals and accommodations provided. They wanted me on site all the time. I worked 18 hours a day with no time off for that whole time... and immediately had a breakdown as soon as that contract ended and I got out of the weird routine of it. I needed months to get back to anything like sanity.

    The next job I got, and the job I still have, is a four day work week, 50% telecommuting gig. I have responsibilities and I'm on call 24x7 but as long

  • by hyades1 ( 1149581 ) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Tuesday December 05, 2017 @08:48AM (#55679449)

    The study assumes that employers want to treat their employees as human beings. In the United States, employees are inconvenient, failure-prone devices that insist on receiving a few dollars in pay for the work they do. This puts an unfair limit on the employer's ability to make money.

    So if an employee has a heart attack or a stroke, or suffers from depression...that's their problem. If one of them occasionally loses their shit and goes on a killing spree...it's not going to be the CEO who gets shot.

    So the hours an employee works need to be whatever the employer says. If an employer wants 60 hour weeks with another 10 hours of tacked-on, uncompensated "setup time", the employees should just shut up and thank god they have jobs.

    And no health care. That could raise corporate taxes, and it's better for America if the employees die off when they can't work anymore.

    • If one of them occasionally loses their shit and goes on a killing spree...it's not going to be the CEO who gets shot.

      This is the part that would get change made the fastest. I'd be happy if politicians were killed off in pairs since both D and R are hopelessly corrupt and both need to have the herd thinned. The bipartisan nature of it would allow justice to be done without it becoming partisan. A milder version of this is that both Trump and Hillary need to be locked up.

    • That's why this is one of my favorite quotes:

      "Somehow, we got into a discussion of the responsibility of management. Holden made the point that management's responsibility is to the shareholders – that's the end of it. And I objected. I said, 'I think you're absolutely wrong. Management has a responsibility to its employees, it has a responsibility to its customers, it has a responsibility to the community at large.' And they almost laughed me out of the room."- David Packard

    • Ideally, companies would want their workers to be productive, and that means not overworking them. Hiring new employees is expensive, and so replacing burned-out employees is expensive. From a purely selfish point of view, a company should not demand work that will reduce immediate productivity or have longer-range ill effects.

      Of course, there are a large number of managers and executives who wouldn't know informed self-interest if it bi them in the ass.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    1997-10-01 67.1%
    2007-10-01 65.8%
    2017-10-01 62.7%

    Fewer Americans working means Americans are working less on average.

    Mission Accomplished!

  • If you are working/living under favourable conditions, surrounded by practical, sensible and properly understanding people, with high freedom/resource availability to do whatever you want at any point, that advice might be somehow helpful for those not realising that being too concerned about work (or on anything else) isn't precisely positive. On the other hand, if your conditions are harder and/or your expectations can only be accomplished via a relevant amount of over-effort and/or in that moment you are
  • In fact, it's 10,507 by Minoru Yoshida of Japan in October 1980 [topendsports.com]. After which they stopped keeping track of that record.

    So maybe you should start out with an analogy that isn't demonstrably false...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    People working 80 hours a week on a job they love and are passionate about probably isn't too much of a stretch. They start the day with "Today I get to..."

    On the other hand, slogging through 80 hours of someone else's bullshit is killer. They start the day with "Today I have to..."

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      This is a good point. And when you go home, you engage in some activities that you enjoy. Odds are that many of them include some level of intellectual or mental engagement. So one is not shutting down one's brain*. Mental effort continues to be exerted, just on an activity that interests a person.

      *Aside from some millennials who just want to take their paycheck, go home and light up a joint.

      • If you work an 80-hour week, that's approximately half your time at work. Assuming you sleep eight hours a night (seven is probably too little), you're working and sleeping 136 hours a week, leaving 32 left for everything else. You're going to have to fit commuting, meals, etc. into that 32 hours. You're not going to be doing all that much that's stimulating with what's left.

    • The real question is, would the person putting in the 80-hour week produce more or less with a 40-hour week? They may say they accomplish more, but we've found self-reporting to be unreliable.

  • Showing off... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Tuesday December 05, 2017 @09:37AM (#55679683)
    The editor just wanted to use the word "apotheosis" in a sentence. :)
  • by urbanriot ( 924981 ) on Tuesday December 05, 2017 @09:45AM (#55679707)

    I've been reading western topics like this for a good 15 years now and, quite frankly, I don't believe North Americans are actually working more but rather they're occupying more of their time with work because they're working less.

    For a good span of my life I had worked in IT and had to spend a good chunk of my time evaluating web logs for management and I would easily say that the majority of office workers with PCs would waste a huge chunk of time browsing Facebook, forums, baby sites, wedding sites, stock sites, local news sites, sports sites, dating sites, etc., etc. Hell, plenty of people paid their electric, gas, credit card, etc., bills at work as though they didn't have the internet at home... and the porn. I can't count the number of men that had porn stashes on their computers.

    Certainly the amount of time wasn't consistent across the board and for some of these folks it was only 15 - 30 minutes a day on someone else's dime devoted to personal browsing but for many it was up to 2 hours. I'd say the average was an hour. And what else could they be doing at work? Are they conducting personal affairs over the phone?

    The point I'm making has less to do with how pervasive internet slacking is in work environments that use computers but to question how many people are suffering because they're doing too little work at work?

    • I'm lucky to have a job where I'm judged based on shit not going wrong, and if it does, that getting fixed quickly. What that means is that I can and do blow off at 3pm sometimes when I'm brain-dead or nothing is on fire. In exchange, when things are on fire, I'm generally a lot more useful than if I was putting in 60 hrs a week.

      Could I be more productive at work? No. I could be less effective at my core duties, while more productive at busy-work. But my core duty is to make things not halt and catch on fir

    • Some places have the balls to say our employers enjoy working at home in there free time on work stuff. Now how true is that realy? or is more like we have so much work that they are pressured to do that / are so back logged that is only way to get lesser things done.

    • Is it really any better in other continents?

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