Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Why you and I will never have a 15 hour work week

tldr: time to market.

Recently Keynes' prediction of a 15 hour work week has resurfaced in discussions ranging from automation to basic income. Why exactly do we still work 40+ hours? I've seen many reasons*, but I'd like to focus on something I missed in all the articles and comments: time to market. Companies need their creative employees to deliver at peak performance to achieve the fastest time to market. How can they invent & ship their products as soon as possible? Sticking to a small, stable team that works about 40 hours per week per person.

There are two reasons for this:
  1. In creative professions the individuals are not easily interchangeable. You can have a different bricklayer continue your part of a wall the next day, getting another programmer to continue your piece of code is much more difficult. The same people have to work on a project for sustained periods of time.
  2. In the last century it has been demonstrated that you get most out of employees when they work close to 40 hours per week.

So in conclusion: I don't think that innovating companies that want to stay competitive will ever let their creative people have a 15 hour work week. Nothing stops the employees from retiring at 40 though ;)

discuss on HN


* These are the reasons I've seen:

  • Wealth inequality: the top X % are reaping the benefits, the rest don't have the wealth to work less
  • Work as leisure: people enjoy work more than their free time
  • Bullsh*t jobs: we invent unimportant work to keep busy
  • Consumerism: we want more and higher quality things