Let's Kill the 40 Hour Workweek

"Why are we so hung up on designing all of our business lives around a 40-hour workweek? Does it even make sense in today's economy? If not, what can we change and how would it benefit us?"

December 8th, 2021   |    By: Wil Schroter

Why are we still paying people in units of time?

It's been about 100 years since the Industrial Revolution and yet nearly everyone on the planet still gets paid like a dock worker, where units of time equal measurable production.

That made sense when nearly everyone had an output that could be tracked by time, but in our current economy, why do we still think every job should be performed for exactly 40 hours within a 9 to 5 schedule?

We're at a point where we can no longer justify a one size fits all type of output metric. It's time we burn down the old institution of work hours and build a new mechanism that actually applies to what employers are paying for, and what employees actually do.

Let's Pay for Outcomes

As Founders what we care about more than anything is the outcome of our costs. If it takes our developer 20 hours to finish their project or 60 hours, do we really care? Isn't that ultimately something they should be managing and not us?

We should be focused on setting our desired outcomes and the amount we're willing to pay for those outcomes. That's the deal. It's our job to manage our pay, and the employee's job to manage their time.

Let's Revisit "Business Hours"

At some point, the world agreed that "business hours" would exist roughly between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. in whatever time zone we existed in. That made sense when we had to physically coordinate a lot of people all at the same time meet face to face, collaborate, and yell at each other.

But we've long since outgrown those conditions since we started using email about 30 years ago! Nowadays between email, text, and messenger apps, we've moved to a world of asynchronous communications, and more so, where our physical location generally doesn't apply.

What we're really trying to do is establish expected "response times." It's not about whether someone is "in their seat working" during specific hours as much as they are responsive when we need them. We can map this to a common set of hours so we have expectations, but we can provide flexibility and responsiveness at the same time.

Let's Abandon the "40 Hour Benchmark"

We've gotten really hung up on this concept of 40 hours being the standard-bearer for productivity. If we work fewer hours we're a slacker and if we work more hours we're overworked. How is that possibly the same for every person in every profession at every stage in their life?

The 40-hour benchmark assumes too much. It assumes that if we've worked 40 hours that we must have been productive. If we work 20, we're underperforming and if we work 60 we're overworked. Our productivity should be measured by how much we can get done in as few hours as possible. If it takes us 40 hours to do 20 hours worth of work, we shouldn't get a high five.

We need to break free of this antiquated 40-hour workweek mentality that has so little relevance in today's workplace. Instead, we need to wipe the slate clean and design a new system that takes into account what the world really looks like, what we're really trying to achieve, and if we're being just crazy — makes our lives significantly better.

In Case You Missed It

How Much Should I Be Working? (podcast). Wil and Ryan take a deep dive into the benefits of thinking quality and not quantity when it comes to your weekly punch card.

Optimizing for Productivity. Working through peak productivity is easy. It’s the valleys that we’re concerned about. The key is to plan for and optimize the valleys so we can recharge effectively.

I’m Burnt Out. What Do I Do? When we hit a point of burn out it's important that we understand what to do about it. If we ignore it, the problem only gets much worse. So let's take a look at what Founders do to deal with burnout head-on.


About the Author

Wil Schroter

Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @ Startups.com, a startup platform that includes BizplanClarity, Fundable, Launchrock, and Zirtual. He started his first company at age 19 which grew to over $700 million in billings within 5 years (despite his involvement). After that he launched 8 more companies, the last 3 venture backed, to refine his learning of what not to do. He's a seasoned expert at starting companies and a total amateur at everything else.

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