Forty Hour Week

An ExtremeProgramming practice and metaphor for achieving an EightHourBurn and maintaining a SustainablePace.

Contrast with OverTime: time spent in the office when you don't want to be there. OverTime leads to BurnOut.

Contrast with "The Velvet Sweatshop" depicted in SteveMcConnell's article "Microsoft: A Highly Motivated Environment" (1996), where "highly motivated" MicroSoft employees lived in their offices and asked for laundry machines. (http://stevemcconnell.com/articles/art05.htm).


Working late is usually more visible and will therefore get you further than getting in to work early. Arriving after the boss can be very visible and very negative in some CorporateCulture?s. And then there's the occasional boss who's a real early bird. In my experience, though, the early bird bosses tend to be more thoughtful about measuring work than the run-of-the-mill boss.

Very true! One former boss thought I was working long hours. I really came in a little earlier than he did (not a big feat) and worked reasonably late, but pulled 40 hour weeks on average. It's just I'm not a morning person. -- AndreasKrueger


Near the top of this page was Americans: WhyDoYouPermitThisToBeDoneToYou? That's a damned good question. The simple fact is that we do indeed permit this. What I'm wondering is why, in a labor-short market, with all the bargaining power in the world available to us, we don't simply quote Marcel Marceau in Mel Brooks' Silent Movie and say "No!"? What's the matter with us - don't we have the courage to say "Enough!"

Of course, the employers are pushing us to work longer hours to make up for the shortage, but what, really, is the shortage all about? Considering the large percentage of waste that goes on in our industry due to insane schedules, badly defined products, faulty methodologies, lousy tools, boneheaded ideas, etc. (not to mention websurfing to track our stock market investments!) we may actually have a surplus of people who are badly used.

You know, if we actually did limit the work week to 40 hours, or less (a better idea) and took some time for reflection, we might discover that half of all software projects are totally unnecessary, and the remaining half can be easily handled in normal weeks by existing staff. Since we obviously aren't going to use our collective power to squeeze more money, control, and status out of our firms, we could at least grovel for some time off.

We really are a bunch of cowards, don't you think? We bitch about our long hours on the one hand but revel in how hard we work on the other. Time to get off the fence, folks. Either you own your labor or you are owned by it. What's it going to be? Who really controls your life, your time? -- DonOlson

It's like this: do you live to work, or do you work to live?

Um...which one is better?

I think "work as part of your life" (so be sure to enjoy work) is best.


Here is Edward Bear (a.k.a. WinnieThePooh), coming down the stairs, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind ChristopherRobin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it. And then he feels that perhaps there isn't.

AaMilne knew all about it years ago.


I believe that there are many bright, young, unattached programmers who would only go home and hack on their home computers if they left work, so they just stay at work instead. These are seen as bright rising stars, and thus the behaviour to be emulated by everyone else. After all, that's how media casts the image (and has for 20 years or more). I know I was like that in my 20s.

If you want to say "enough," you're free to do it and enforce 40-hour weeks yourself. Typically, not much harm will actually come to you. Just show up at nine, and leave at five forty-five (if you have 45 minutes lunch).

I remember the day when I decided I would rather go home and stare at the wall than sit late at the office. I have managed to pretty much keep to that for ten years and I am much happier for it. I even got married so now going home is a Good Thing.


If you want to say "enough," you're free to do it...

I think the most important point is that you have to initiate it. Your boss is not going to say "Umm.. he is working too hard, I will give him less work to do in the future". You have to let him know "that's is how much I do in a week" and just go home at 5 or 6. Make no excuse about it, I found out that most bosses do not want to admit that they are deliberately squeezing you, and if you are confident in your position in the company, your boss will just have to accept that you can only do so much in a week. In fact, putting in more hours usually won't get more work done for you.

In my experience, I can do more work in 40 hours (well, my optimum seems to be 35), than I can in 50 or 60. A boss in the know will realize this, and rather than saying "I will give him less work to do in the future", will say "I'll limit him to 40 hours so that he can get more work done". I'm still waiting to meet a boss like that, though. The last time I tried this with my team, my boss overruled me and told the team that they had to put in the extra time. That was in September, and we pushed hard through to mid-December, and we're still burned out in March.


''There are two types of workers in the USA; Actually, the definition of exempt does not require a 40 hour work week. It says that the employee can set his own working hours. Companies want to pay on an exempt salaried basis, but they want the workers to work on a non-exempt hourly basis. Try to skip going in if you have completed all relevant tasks; the company would rather have you sit at your desk doing nothing.

I have a friend who was told to leave the office when he had nothing to do. There's a noticeable difference between working and loafing, and the boss didn't want anyone to see his group loafing. He used to go walk around the mall when this would happen. Of course, he worked where the absence could be easily explained away as "field work".

Companies have actually had employees reclassified as non-exempt because they would require hours to be "made up" when people would take time off for medical appointments and the like. But most US companies still set fixed (minimum) hours for their exempt employees.


"Why do you permit this to be done to you?" I'm one American who doesn't. Some times I've worked part time, right now I'm working full time but not for much longer; I've been saving away money in anticipation of a break from work. I realized some time ago that if I could live comfortably on half my salary, and wanted more time for myself, the logical thing to to was to trade money for time. See YourMoneyOrYourLife

What job and where are you working where you can live comfortably on half your salary?

Bear in mind that half the hours worked does not necessarily mean half the take-home pay, thanks to handy sliding tax scales (at least in the U.S. and Canada). There is a lot to be said for working fewer hours, keeping a larger percentage of your pay, and spending the remaining time with friends, family, etc. Myself I currently work 4 days per week, about 35 hours total, thinking about reducing it to 3.


Those 40 hours are really JustaNumber? without any real value as to productiveness (but a very real value towards people's free-time). As PeopleWare (and my own experience) tells you, people working longer hours aren't necessarily more productive. The bad effect of the 1-20 range in skills of JustaProgrammers is that the skilled ones are likely to be exploited first: the gain is better (after all, you get more skill out of the same overtime), and also the skilled ones are those that are likely to fix urgent (i.e. overtime) problems, because only they know their way around the system. The adverse effect is that you BurnYourBestPeople?. -- JuergenHermann


Interesting post above, does anyone know the FortyHourWeekHistory?


Programmers sometimes become managers. (Don't laugh - it happened to me!) If people on my team need to work OverTime, it is for only one possible reason: I have made an error in staffing levels. If every manager of programmers understood this simple tenet, the world would be a better place. -- EdBeroset

Hear hear. Unfortunately, according to a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation based on my experience (at about 10 companies), you seem to belong to a group of less than 1 percent of management

It is not just managers. In my youth, I've found myself caught in an interesting trap. I'd be asked for an estimate for a piece of work. Being young and inexperienced, I'd give them IdealEstimates. I'd feel like I was committed to that estimate and would make up the difference between what I gave and reality on my own time. Unpaid OverTime. I've stopped that now that I am old and jaded. -- NikHughes


The team with which I am currently working have been working between 70 and 90 hours per week. It was a DeathMarch--after a few months we felt like zombies. The XP (and PeopleWare) concept of working the OptimalWorkHoursPerWeek convinced us to cut back. Unfortunately, we have still been at about 50 hours, feeling too guilty to cut to 40. What we really needed was a way to convince ourselves that we were getting as much out of those reduced hours as possible. Recently, we have come across the classic book TimeTrap by Alec MacKenzie? which homes in on very specific techniques to make our workday as productive as can be. This is a superb complement to the XP material, and is highly recommended. -- AnthonyLauder

The hero stories in the software industry are about busting ones butt to meet impossible deadlines. How many programming heroes are there who work 40 hours and have a life?

The 40-hour heroes are those who simply force the issue. After months of 80-hour weeks, there's a lot of popular support for those who get to 5pm then JustGoHome. It's a gradual process whereby we are conditioned to think that the OverTime push at the end of a project is normal, instead of a problem. When it works, managers use it as a baseline and make the next project shorter. So everyone increases the regular hours and the end-of-project push lasts a little longer. Before you know it, double-time is normal. The staff can slip from 40 hours on occasion, but need to hold firm on occasion.


One agency I work with gives their employees an option of 5 8-hour days or 4 10-hour days. I know several people who do it, and it's not hard to get accustomed to. I even know a couple with children where the mother takes off Monday and the father takes off Friday. They figure that the fewer days the children are in daycare the better.

Heck, give me a choice between a 5-days/8-theorical hours week (with 10+ hours per day in practice) or a 4-days/10-hours week, i'll take the later without blinking. --PC


moved here from WhyDoYouPermitThisToBeDoneToYou

If the long-term health of a team (or company) is an issue, the focus must be on more than the current deadline. Successfully finishing the current project makes it more likely you will get to do the next one, but where will you be if your team suffers ProgrammersBurnOut? (or has walked out)? Project managers run these gruelling projects over and over, and never seem to learn. Many companies appear to value this behavior, and reward these managers.

Do project teams ever work OverTime? Certainly! No software development organization that is pushing hard completely escapes this problem. But we view it as a problem and an aberration. If the condition persists, even for two weeks in a row, something is not right. It can't always be fixed within the current engagement, but it can be learned from so the next one is better. -- BillBarnett


I was talking to a friend who just got his job. I asked him if he'd like to come over and hack out some code every now and again, you know, in that friendly way before the IT boom.

He said, "Well, you know, ten hours a day is kinda tough, I don't know how much more I'd have in me."

"Ten hours?" I said.... But then I realized that's fifty hours a week if he doesn't do weekends at all. He and I had just worked on an XP-style project for school. "The XP guys advocate forty-hour weeks."

"Hmm," he said, "well, you know, people here do fuck around for about two hours a day, anyway."

This made Deming's picture appear in my mind, very large and genially. "This seems to me to be one of those points where Deming would say, 'if your employees are just going to waste your time anyway, why not let them waste your time on their own time?'" In other words, let the employees fuck around for two hours at home or in the bar each nite, rather than keeping them there for long hours. At least they'd be more rested when they came in the next day. Knowing Deming, he'd also insist that you pay the employees the same amount they would have made working overtime for working those forty hours.

I suppose I'd probably damn myself if I ever admitted that, when I worked long hours, some of those hours were not very productive. So, just for the record, every hour that I have worked has been worked to the absolute top of my potential for that hour. (I love legalese sometimes).

-- JohnDuncan


What is the OptimalWorkHoursPerWeek?


I think one of the reasons people talk about hours worked, is because it is easy to measure. So, we wind up with HIO (HoursInOffice?) as productivity measure, which is about as useful as LOC. -- RichieBielak


Over on WhyDoYouPermitThisToBeDoneToYou, JohnDuncan suggested that CEOs should lead by example by refusing to work more than a FortyHourWeek.

Hmm, JohnDuncan's suggestion is interesting. I'm lucky to have recently landed a job at a smallish (<30) start-up where management bought into XP with quite a lot more enthusiasm than I expected (see ProjectCanon). Management here is extremely clued in to most of the XP principles and values; however, the one XP practice I think will be hardest to adopt will be the FortyHourWeek because just about everybody, from boss down to engineers, works 60 or even 80. Now If I could manage to convince the boss of the above, he might very well be able to swing everybody over... -- LaurentBossavit

(I'm no longer there - management turned out not to be that "clued in".) -- lb

(were they missing clues about specifically FortyHourWeek, or about XP as a whole, or about some specific practice? I'm quite interested in WhyTheyStoppedXp in general. -- ChristopheThibaut)


See: and OverTime, GetaLife, FortyHoursVsFun, EconomicsOfWorkWeeks, WorkWeeksAroundTheWorld, KelloggWorkWeek.

Work, Hours, Who Cares? Results are what matters. If you get results in 10 hours a week that make you an asset to a group (pc for "company"),nothing you do or don't do will be cause for separation. If, however, one shows up for 60 hours and does not produce enough to pay for the air conditioning they soak up, they should be thankful for getting fired so they can go on to something that might amount to a useful contribution to the world they inhabit. Work and fun are not mutually exclusive concepts for many of us. Is there a clear line between the two? Who would want to do George Clooney's "job", or Shaq's, Roger Clemmons', or Hugh Hefner's? Surely, DaVinci?, Liszt, ThomasJefferson and WilliamShakespeare were not clock watchers. On the other hand, no one would expect anyone to eagerly spend just one hour mining coal or being a participant in mortal combat, but many people are quite happy to do both. Perhaps it's merely a state of mind, if you want to do less, you are probably already doing the least you can get away with. If you are working a lot of hours, you probably wish that you could just give up on sleeping, so you could get more done. -- IsThatCynical?

It's not cynical. It's just the typical programmer-with-no-life mentality that hurts the rest of us. (Worse than your own preferences is your contempt for programmers who do have lives--you imply that we aren't really programmers, and should be fired immediately.) At least MBA types, much as I dislike them, strive to *own* a company that makes lots of money. Your goal is to devote your life to making money for someone else, not because you're forced to, but because that's what fulfills you. Like the servile house elves in the HarryPotter books.

My motivation is my craft, too. (I'm not interested in owning a company--I'd rather work as a programmer.) But I am not a dwarf--I'm a 'mortal man, doomed to die' who loves to write code. I won't spend every waking hour 'creating value' for my employer. (In my experience, only programmers are mentally limited enough to actually advocate this as a moral principle.) There are more things in heaven and earth, dwarf, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. And Neal Stephenson doesn't spend every waking hour in servitude. He writes novels--which is one of those non-programming contributions to the world I'm referring to. And you yourself are taking time away from humbly serving your master (employer) by coming here to advocate servility. That's true for me, too--I don't care about making money for someone else as long as I can create, and live on the money I'm paid. But that's quite different from devoting all of your waking hours to your job! Then you aren't really 'living' on the money you're paid. And the original 'IsThatCynical?' author above is arguing that any moment not spent sleeping or working for your employer is slacking, and shows you aren't a real (servile, mentally one-dimensional, ignorant of the world) programmer. I don't think that attitude even makes you a good *programmer* (how do you learn things you aren't paid for?), let alone a human being. Although I understand that whether programmers are human beings is part of what is being discussed on this page. I, myself, am human, not dwarven. And I'm not a house-elf. I work full-time as a programmer--as a full-time *employee*, not from 'can't see' in the morning to 'can't see' at night.

Which company is this which will let you work only 10 hours a week, as long as you get a lot done? Has such a company been proven to exist, or is it a figment of AynRand's imagination?

The only things in life other than working and sleeping are 'having fun'? You imply that if you had free time in the evening, you'd just play Halo 2 or whatever the current VideoGame is, so you might as well yoke yourself to work like an ox instead. There's nothing else you want to do--contribute to the world in other ways, have a relationship with a person of the appropriate gender? Have kids? (And sell *them* into slavery, too?)

And even if the *only* thing you find fun is programming--how does it follow that you should devote every waking hour to getting stuff done for your job? Wouldn't you want to have time to learn other technologies (like learning RubyLanguage or EnterpriseObjectsFramework, when work is all CeeSharpLanguage), contribute to open-source projects, or write software for your own or your friends' use? Although strictly applying your philosophy would preclude having friends. In fact, if you wanted to spend every waking hour programming, the FortyHourWeek would still benefit you--you could work *two* jobs (like many people struggling to survive are forced to), and thus get twice the salary! But you believe in old-school chattel slavery, which means one master that owns you, not two who rent.
An interesting variation of the FortyHourWeek:

Monday through Thursday -- 9 hours each day (starting one hour earlier, or working one hour longer reducing CommutingStress? by travelling off-peak) Friday -- Work just 4 hours (the rest of the day off - typically used to care of personal matters, shop, etc.) On rare occasions the afternoon can serve as a period of work for extremely important deadlines where loose ends are tied up before releases. -- DonaldNoyes
Some additions in AugustZeroFive

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