02 August 2007

Longer Working Hours vs Productivity

It started to rain this morning as I reached my office. For the past two weeks, the temperature over here was not too warm as it rained quite frequently. I heard a few grumbles here and there about the rain this morning. Before, when there was no rain and the temperature was very high for quite some time, people were also complaining. I don't think that weather should accommodate, entertain and please everyone. We should be thankful as there are many other places that are going through extreme weathers right now. We want to live in comfort all the time and tend to forget that we are sharing this world with other people and many other beings. We tend to become selfish and want everything to our advantage.

Anyway, I've started to get very busy again as I was just tasked with another heavy project. As usual, the crew has been put to work longer hours. Almost everyone are happy as this is a good opportunity for them to make money out of the overtime work.

At the moment, I'm working 10 hours per day at the most, but I had no choice except to let my men to continue working beyond that under the supervision of another person after I left. Even though it is their own choice and nobody is forcing them to do it, sometimes I still feel bad that I have to let them work those extra hours. I could feel how much their families want them to be at home. However, I guess that the bosses are more than happy as long as the tasks are accomplished on time.

Does working extra hours can increase the productivity?
And does working longer hours means higher output?

There are many information that pertain to this subject, but I personally think that Evan Robinson's "Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work: 6 Lessons" is worth a read. I'm going to quote some of the paragraphs from his article as I write along.

Results from a lot of studies and research clearly show that the more hours people work, the less productive they become. It is actually a common sense that when people work more, they become tired and give less output. Research also shows that companies that encourage better work-life balance are much more productive.

Evan Robinson wrote;

"When Henry Ford famously adopted a 40-hour workweek in 1926, he was bitterly criticized by members of the National Association of Manufacturers. But his experiments, which he'd been conducting for at least 12 years, showed him clearly that cutting the workday from ten hours to eight hours — and the workweek from six days to five days — increased total worker output and reduced production cost."

Productivity is a function of output and time. Increasing the number of working hours may not necessarily increase the output as we are human beings and not machines. Even machines break down when they're subjected to constant wear and tear.

Individuals also vary significantly in the amount, intensity and type of energy they have in different days, weeks and months. That's the reason why in some days, we work really well and achieve great outcomes, whereas on other days, we lack our creativity or enthusiasm, and achieving the same outcomes becomes an uphill struggle.

However, Management always try to get the maximum output from minimum number of employees. Hiring more employees means higher cost. Asking the employees to work extended hours seems to be the best solution as they wrongly assume that people are consistent in their approach and outlook.

There were times when I had struggled to complete a task until late at night and eventually failed to finish it, but the same task was done fast and easy the next morning after a good rest and sleep. There were also times when I worked too long that I could only turn up at work the next day at noon or took a day off due to exhaustion. I have also seen, through my experience, people getting injured while working extended hours.

Evan Robinson wrote;

"But eventually daily fatigue is compounded by cumulative fatigue. That is, any additional output produced during extended hours today will be more than offset by a decline in hourly productivity tomorrow and subsequent days."

"Even during a single "day" of extreme duration, output may come to a standstill as an exhausted employee becomes unable to function. Or output can turn negative as stupefied employees commit catastrophic errors that destroy previously completed work or capital."

Having said all this, however, through my experience, I've seen so many projects were accomplished by putting the crew to work on extended hours. I would say that a bad culture has developed here that people tend to put in more effort when they are asked to do overtime, which also means extra money for them. Sometimes, the productivity seems to decline during normal hours during periods when there are less overtime. This situation could be a result of low salaries being paid to the workers in this company that they have to rely much on overtime. The managers take advantage of this situation to feed the workers with overtime in order to get more and more tasks accomplished. I very much hope that this culture will be gone one day.

However, I still agree that working extra hours is definitely not a long term solution to overcome shortage of work time, it may be used at times when it is very critical to rescue a delayed task in order to meet the project's deadline and there's no other way of doing it except to put the workers on extended hours.

Evan Robinson wrote;

"So, yes, Crunch Mode can increase output over the short term. But, at 60 hours per week, in no case should "the short term" be defined as anything more than eight weeks long. At that point, the costs strongly begin to outweigh the advantages. Not only have you lost all the gain those increased hours bought; you've also got tired, angry, burned-out workers."

But it is also important to take note that;

"In the short term, working over 21 hours continuously is equivalent to being legally drunk."

I very much hate to work extra hours even though I'll be getting more money at the end of the month if I do it. Life is too short and there are many other things in life that need to be attended to.


  1. It really depends in which kind of environment you're working, but I tink most people just add up hours and are just no longer productive after X hours in the day.

    We all need holidays, breaks, sleep, time at home... People can't be pushed forever, especially without incentives. Good post !

  2. Not only working hours, but being accessable 24/7 with blackberries puts a major strain on employees, whether it be regular or salary staff.

  3. Oh I have to agree that a person's productivity is affected by the length of time he spends working. Maybe those who are more productive are simply driven by their desire to earn more but is it sustainable?

  4. Zunnur, in short term, working long hours may bring increase outputs. but to which output level? humans are not robots either (management often forgets about this anyway ^_^) ..

    I'm not in favor of longer working hours as we need to recharge our 'batteries' to maintain good job performance (so that we wouldn't be 'eliminated')

    and oh, i have friends who worked extra hours but still didn't get extra $ on their paychecks.


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