A reminder: Overtime is nearly always stupid.

2012-08-11 23:52

In a discussion about a video game, and why the developers should have been working on code rather than taking a break to do some social/promotional stuff, someone wrote:

I’m a commissioning Engineer working for a large corporation that installs continuous processing equipment in customer factories. During commissioning we work 12hr shift rosters around the clock setting up process control and fixing bugs reported to us by operators.
When the jobs done to the customers satisfaction we then get shit faced.

This caused me to realize: It is still the case that there are people who have not followed the last hundred and some years of research in the field. Yes, over a hundred years; there’s a published paper from 1908 observing that a shorter working day can produce increased productivity. Not just increased productivity per hour, mind you. Increased overall productivity. As in, more things get done per worker per day.

This might seem surprising, but it shouldn’t. As Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow points out, the brain gets tired, and when it gets tired, it gets lazy. For a particularly terrifying example, consider the parole judges mentioned in the book; in general, about 35% of parole requests are granted. However, that number is nearly 65% at the start of a working period, and 0% at the end of a working period. Tired people fall back on the default; in that case, denying requests. Unless you think that the cases are scheduled such that nearly all of the people who ought to be granted parole happen to come early, the fact is that the system as set up is producing very inaccurate results in some significant way.

The IDGA has a very nice article on why crunch mode doesn’t work.

What it comes down to is: People who have been working overtime for an extended period perform as though legally drunk. They make a lot more mistakes. They don’t just make more mistakes during the extended hours, they make more mistakes during all the other hours, too. Lack of sleep, similarly, causes serious performance problems in any kind of work which requires functional thinking. Programming is one such kind of work.

Peter Seebach

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Comment

  1. Tired parents are also less permissive, as I’ve discovered in myself. Even when you know what you’re doing, parenting is hard work because you’re constantly being evaluated. And not by your boss; no, it’s personal. You can’t stop parenting just because you’re not prepared to parent.

    Dave Leppik · 2012-08-14 12:30 · #

 
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