June 19, 2013


More Productivity Myths, Debunked by Science (and Common Sense) (Alan Henry, 6/19/13, Lifehacker)

Myth #1: More Hours Equals More Work

If you had more hours in the day, surely you'd get more done, right? That's the sinister logic behind the myth that more hours equals more work. It's also the logic that encourages us to pull all-nighters in college and for employers to make their staff to work late or come in on weekends. Unfortunately, more hours doesn't equal more work, and in fact, longer hours usually leads to worse results, lower productivity, and an unhappy, less healthy you.

This 2011 synthesis paper (full text, PDF) by the International Labour Organization reviewed available research into the relationship between productivity and hours worked. The core conclusion: Longer hours do not make you more productive, and can in fact have the opposite effect: You'll get less done, and what you do get done is never your best work (or has to be revisited or corrected later). The ILO paper isn't the only one on the topic. A similar paper by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (full text, PDF) pointed out that among the 16 of the EU nations, people who worked more flexible hours or jobs that would be normally considered part-time were overall more engaged with and productive at work and happier in their off-time than people who worked more hours.

That paper even directly contrasted the European model of high "labour market participation rates" (which means more people working but not necessarily steadily employed with one job) and lower individual working times with the American model of high employment (people steadily employed with a single job) and longer working times. The paper concluded that regardless of the type of employment (full-time or part-time), the sweet spot is around 30 hours. After that, quality of work and life start to drop off. It's particularly stinging result (although one we've mentioned before) considering most of us work close to 50 hours per week. This isn't just Europe talking, either. Robert C. Pozen, former executive at Fidelity Investments, former chairman of MFS Investment Management, and current lecturer at Harvard Business School argues the same in his book Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours. Similarly, all-nighters don't work either (don't take our word for it, this study in the journal Child Development concludes as much) and forcing an employee to work late just strains their already limited energy reserves.

Posted by at June 19, 2013 8:10 PM

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