The Myth Of Working Long Hours

I recently came across a Job Description on a Start-up Forum, looking for Software developers for a fast-growing company. Things looked interesting till I reached a line which listed this as one of the requirements – “Ability to work long hours”

Now before I begin, answer my question – how many hours do you work in a week on average?

Options are – a) < 40, b) 40-60 c) >60


If you answered a) – congratulations, you guys are already doing great in terms of work-life balance and are probably going to agree with everything that follows in this article.

If you answered c) – I am sorry, but some of the following content might come across as harsh – you guys are spoiling work-culture everywhere and spreading the myth that more hours = more work. If you dig deep you might find something here that will convince you why this is not sustainable or productive.

If you answered b) – you guys are on the border and can be tipped easily on either side – please read further and try not to go over to the dark side.

Now my problem with Long hours –

  • Unless you are working for yourself, you are paid to work for a certain number of hours (which is contractually binding). Anything more and your employer is getting a free ride (unless there is a paid over-time pay, which is normally more per-hour than the regular pay)
  • In either case, 40 hrs per week is more than sufficient to do a ton of work – that’s 8 hrs per day (for 5 days a week), translates to 480 minutes – if you do your work without distraction, this is generally enough to meet expectations set and maybe even surpass it.

If you are working for 8 hrs per day diligently and still not able to meet expectations, then at least one of the following is true –

    1. Your employer is setting unrealistic expectations – they are paying you for your current skill level and productivity – ask them to set expectations accordingly
    2. There is a major difference between your employee’s expectation of your skill/productivity and the actuals – either set the expectation right (“I am a .NET developer, but no I am not a JavaScript Guru”) or find another job – don’t let your ego get in-between here and say I can make this work, in the long-term it will kill you. If you need a transition period to get upto the skill level that your employer has set, make that clear up-front – most often than not, this will not really affect your compensation, but even if it does, it’s usually worth it.
    3. Your employer makes you spend a lot of time doing things that are not really important – symptoms are, you work till late night preparing for a demo, next day the demo gets cancelled. Or you work on the weekend trying to fix a bug, but once you’ve fixed it, the customer is unavailable to actually deploy it. Time to find another job.
    4. You unknowingly spend a lot of time doing things that are not productive – which affects your actual work

For most, 4 is the biggest problem though they don’t know it yet – ever switched to the news site when you start a build and realized only an hour later that you are completely distracted? Or spent a lot of time replying to email helping people over and over again? Or do you feel like you always end up cleaning after others? If you are doing any of this, chances are that you are doing something you aren’t paid to do.

There is an excellent talk on personal productivity from Scott Hanselmann which highlights these problems and shows you how to focus on what needs to be done, rather than what keeps popping into your inbox – go watch it.

No, seriously, go watch it and then come back. I’ll be waiting here


Now I’m assuming you’ve watched the video by now, but if you haven’t please do. It will probably be the most important thing that you watch in your career – because it will define how you work, no matter what you work on.

“So all this applies to an individual; as a company looking to hire people, why should I care?”

  1. Hire productive people, not people willing to work long hours. Build a culture of productivity.
  2. Encourage your employees, however hard-working they are, to try and maximize their productivity, not the number of hours they spend in office. Long Hours are not sustainable – not only is productivity sustainable, it just keeps improving over time.

“Okay, but what if I hire productive people and then ask them to work long hours? Won’t that be doubly productive?”

No – you are just setting them up for burn-out that way. Not only that, longer hours give the false impression that we have more time to get the same stuff done, makes people tired, increases mistakes and actually reduces productivity – once your productivity reduces it’s really an uphill task to get it back. So what do you do? You work still longer hours. It’s almost a downward spiral from there.

“No but seriously – why can’t we work productively for 60 hrs instead of 40?”

Why are you so fixated on number of hours? That’s like thinking how fast I want to run ahead, without thinking which direction I want to go. If you are sure of the direction, you would much rather walk – especially if your destination is far off. Walk at a steady pace and reach your goal posts with lots of energy to spare. Building a company takes years, don’t try to short-cut that.

Besides life is about more than just work – let your employees spend some time with their family, work on their hobbies, even work on pet-projects and build their skills. Some of these will come back and reward you as a company many times over – happier employees are more productive and more loyal.

Invest in productivity instead of counting number of hours. Please.

6 thoughts on “The Myth Of Working Long Hours”

  1. Very well said Roopesh, Getting a life is any day more important than slogging at work unnecessarily. I agree that staying late sometime can be inevitable which is completely fine once in a while. But working long hours as a part of job requirement/goals in the first place is completely unfair and meaningless. It’s a situation where it’ll be counted negative if you did not stay long, rather than positive if you did.

    Secondly, if someone wants to stay late then its up to their free will (though not very good but it’s ok if no one has a problem.) but if your boss wants you to stay late every single day just means that he is mean and all he cares about his profit/goals and targets and doesn’t gives a damn about your personal life, you are just a slave who is being payed really well.

    I have been on both sides of line, wherein I was expected to be a productive mule under the influence of some material benefit, on the other hand, My current boss is really amazing person who encourages me to join gym, go places, learn new skills and check out new eat outs/exhibitions and if by chance he sees me staying very late, He makes sure that he pings/sms me asking to go home safely. Sometime when it’s really needed to stay late as a part of job he asks me to order a pizza (or call a private cab) and send the bill to him. After all this, trust me I love my job more than anything else and I am more than ever motivated to work harder and bring value to the team as a part of my morale obligation towards all the awesome things I enjoy.

    – An overjoyed Employee

  2. its really true…..
    i being a developer understand wht u have written…..
    i have been through al this . . . my manegrs feel that the guys spending most no. of hours in office are the smartest ones

  3. Really great advice!

    It’s crazy though, I bet a lot of people who invest 60+ hours and are proud of it will simply call you lazy, or something. They don’t realize that they don’t actually work for the 60+ hours every day, and just waste time.

    They also don’t have a life.

  4. P.S. The people without a life are often unhappy, have health problems, and thus, their productivity goes down. Out of 60+ hours, they actually do 20h of work that someone else could do.

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