I've found that there comes a point at which an employee becomes so saturated with work that spending additional effort to meet deliverables actually yields poorer quality results across the board. This is often less desirable than simply leaving work undone.

  1. Is there a formal term to describe this in the context of business management?
  2. Are there any well known studies that describe or otherwise characterize this?

An example I can use from a previous profession is operating an airplane "on the back side of the power curve." It's a condition in which a pilot must actually add more power to remain aloft. Maybe the power required is more than what is available.

Basic concept: https://sifter.org/~simon/journal/20100718.h.html

  • Perhaps you can do a search on Maslow...
    – Solar Mike
    Jun 12, 2020 at 17:10
  • You were far too quick to accept an answer, @acpilot. There were studies that predated Esenyck's study, by at least a couple of decades. Jun 13, 2020 at 15:03
  • Please post an answer. Jun 15, 2020 at 3:36

1 Answer 1


The first one I saw was by Hans Eysenck, who studied people working in an ammunitions factory in England during WWII, so we may assume that this people were highly motivated.

Workers working 48 hours a week produced more output than workers working 57 hours a week. Not more output per hour, but more output per week. So paying people to work nine hours more was rewarded with having less output.

A sufficiently overworked software developer can actually have negative productivity on a day. In other words, telling them to stay home and do nothing would have been more productive.

And a memorable quote from a manager at Microsoft: "You can keep people in the office for 80 hours a week. You can't make them work more than 40 hours a week".

  • 1
    I think this is a generalisation and industry specific, some people thrive on more hours, some jobs aren't very demanding mentally and physically, or don't have deliverables beyond a bum on a seat for x-hours. But I think this is correct in terms of what the OP means.
    – Kilisi
    Jun 12, 2020 at 13:44
  • It might be a generalization, but there's actually a huge difference between wanting to work more hours because you are focused on something and want to absolutely finish it, and working more hours because you are told to do so. Yes, a few people will find it very convenient, but the majority will get tired before they actually are, just by thinking about the amount of time they'll have to work. You might have heard of Parkinson's law (stretching work so it fits the time you are given), it actually happens with developpers too.
    – Doliprane
    Jun 12, 2020 at 16:11
  • I don't understand why we may assume they are highly motivated. Because of ammunitions factory? Or World War 2? Or England?
    – guest
    Jun 12, 2020 at 18:23
  • @guest have you any idea of the spirit shown by the people in the UK during WWII? Towns would save up to pay for a bomber...
    – Solar Mike
    Jun 12, 2020 at 22:18
  • @Kilisi, "some jobs aren't very demanding mentally and physically, or don't have deliverables beyond a bum on a seat for x-hours" - this too is a fallacy. Having your bum on a seat in an environment determined by an employer is itself often demanding, and whereas a managing director may be able to put in 80 hours of physical attendance largely on his own terms, the average employee under average conditions will not.
    – Steve
    Jun 12, 2020 at 23:08

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