I’m trying to understand my employer better, so let me explain: As a knowledge worker (software developer to be specific) I noticed that after 6 hours of work diminishing returns start to kick in. The longer I stay the less I get done in the last hour and quality suffers. Some research shows that my experience conforms the general rule. Moreover research shows that the optimum of productivity is reached at 40 hours.


As the work week gets longer (whether by hours in a day or days in a week), the week’s productivity tends to remain exactly the same. In some instances, it even decreases. This is true for both white collar workers and manual laborers.

In contrast to that my workplace experience so far is that overtime (unpaid of cause) is encouraged. It seems to be part of the hiring process of many enterprises to tell new employees that their workforce is super motivated and work long hours. Which can be the fact or not, but makes their expectations clear.

Sometimes unrealistic deadlines are set or promises are made which run counter to conservative planning. More often than not employees try to meet those, by working overtime.

Usually it is mandatory to agree upon longer hours to get a significant raise or formal authority.

Given the negative effects of long work weeks, it would even be in the interest of the employers to actively discourage overtime. But this rarely happens.

The negatives effects of long hours should be common knowledge in a professional run company. So what is their rationale to incentive long hours at the expense of incentives which would matter more (getting things done, delivering high quality)?

I’m sure companies put a great deal of thought and consideration into their incentive structure, so someone, who participated in defining such would be able to give an exact answer.

  • We can't accurately guess at the motivations behind policies at specific companies. – dwizum May 10 '18 at 20:12
  • this has been asked and answered before here, in short tho, it's not necessary that long hours -> less returns (see banking, consulting, medicine, law). plenty of valley tech firms work long hours too, and they do pretty well. while there is some evidence of long hours causing burnout, then, it's hardly disprovable fact. Interestingly, this keeps getting brought up in IT - but every other knowledge worker works long - longer, really - hours. I'm not sure what the implication is, or why IT people seem unable to last - in the OP's case - 6 hours. – bharal May 10 '18 at 20:13
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    Possible duplicate of Why is it expected for programmers to work long hours? – bharal May 10 '18 at 20:20
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    If companies were as rational as you give them credit for being, then they'd completely throw away traditional interviewing. Because it's totally random. The work world is run by ego, fueled by appearances. – Slothario May 11 '18 at 3:09

WARNING: Super simple explanation purposefully omitting lots of nuance.

You're looking at optimizing locally, the company is optimizing at a broader level.

You will be more efficient with 6 hours and will output X product. If you work 5, 6 hour days, you will output 5X product. If you work 12 hours, you will put out 1.5X product (because your efficiency plummets). If you work 5, 12 hour days, you will output 7.5X product.

You feel overworked. You feel inefficient. You feel worn out.

The company paid for 5X and got 7.5X. The company feels great. The company feels efficient.

If the company starts having all their employees work 30 hour weeks instead of 60, company's costs stay the same (you're salaried), but their productivity drops by 1/3.

If you can find a company willing to pay you what you're making now (or more) for 30 hours/week, you should strongly consider taking that job. Those positions do exist, but they're uncommon, highly coveted, and seldom vacated.

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    You might want to point out that this is what the company thinks. In reality; if you work 12 hours you will have a total output of 4X product, because you'll be introducing mistakes faster than you can fix them and the company is getting less work delivered for more money AND unhappier workers. – Erik May 10 '18 at 21:20
  • And studies as early as the 1940's have actually shown that. It's not just the productivity per hour that drops, it's the productivity per week. – gnasher729 May 10 '18 at 22:06

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