As Drucker loves pointing out, the sheer volume of times both researchers and businesses have rediscovered the output maximization power of a forty hour work week is farcical. Most business operators wouldn’t be mistaken for being thoughtful, but we got here eventually. Nominally, at least, we white collar workers work forty hours a week.
But there’s a problem, this problem being sufficiently obvious that it’s hardly worth pointing out. People appear to work harder if they work longer, even if hours do not meaningfully translate to output in the medium-to-long term. So, while everyone benefits from having shorter hours in general (as a human who does not want to waste time at work), their career benefits more from working slightly longer than their coworkers. Classic prisoner’s dilemma.
But there’s a much larger problem, in my estimation. It’s that set hours (instead of benchmark-driven work) encourage deliberate inefficiency or low intensity work instead of high intensity work, such as building systems, processes, computer programs, and standards by which the output can be generated with substantially less time and effort.
That’s a bigger problem because it’s not a prisoner’s dilemma, you can’t fix it by generating a cultural externality, a punishment for ignorance, a sneer as someone stays in the office past 5pm. Those fixes are tractable compared to the fundamental issue that current business culture, in that moment, values low intensity work identically to high intensity work. There’s simply no effort expended to tell the difference. Since the high intensity work costs more energy (and likely couldn’t be sustained for 8 hours on the first go), it doesn’t get done.
The only solution is to have more people become executives. That’s the name we have for people responsible for such work. But modern organizations are simply not built to support that, so more businesses must be created. We all betrayed each other and ruined classical employment. Just as well — I think we were all concerned about how creatively claustrophobic almost all jobs are. And now we get something better, not because we wanted it, not because we asked for it, but because there was simply no other option. Building systems is now so much more efficient that employee-based cultures simply cannot compete.