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40% of geeks surveyed really work fewer than ... say what?

Maybe this is information people really ought to be keeping to themselves

By Paul McNamara on Mon, 02/23/09 - 1:55pm.

I've been meaning to write about this Slashdot poll, but other work kept getting in the way. As you'll see from the survey results, however, not everyone can claim that excuse ... at least not with a straight face:

The poll asks a single question: "How many hours do you REALLY work each day?" (The emphasis, added by Slashdot, is critical here.)

Counting the 10 percent who do not work at all (unemployed, part-timers, retirees, the independently wealthy and cannily slothful, I presume) a full 40 percent report really toiling fewer than four hours per day.

(2011's 25 Geekiest 25th Anniversaries)

As you're digesting that nugget, know that more than 27,000 Slashdot readers participated in this survey; so, while I have always been dismissive of online polls, this one offers a substantial number of respondents drawn from a pool that overlaps considerably with Network World's readership.

OK, so how many of you want to cop to working four hours or less? (C'mon, I won't tell.)

Another 24% pegged their real work hours at a not-all-that-much-more-imposing four to six. Sixteen percent claimed the standard seven to eight, while another 11 percent went two hours better.

And the self-described workaholics? Three percent punched the clocked at 11 to 12 hours per day and another 3 percent rounded out the survey at more than 12.

A problem with the survey -- I mean in addition to its unscientific methods and the unmasking of massive workplace laziness -- is that respondents had a difficult time agreeing on exactly what was being asked. However, the resultant discussion was both enlightening and amusing. I've read through all 252 comments -- hey, it's my job -- so that you won't have to.

There were those whose answers would depend on who's doing the counting.

"A huge part of my workday is reading technical material. I do that from home and usually have browser tabs open to Slashdot, various support forums, and usually a mainstream news page. I often work in the same clothes I slept in. So how many hours a day am I really working? 10 or more if you ask me. My fiancé will give quite a different number."

There were many of the "depends on your definition" variety.

"I define 'work' as anything that needs to be done, but I don't like doing. .... I don't like beer, and I've never smoked pot, so I guess anything other than sex is work for me. Although I love fixing computers, so even though I get paid for it, I don't really consider it work."

Depends on your definition, II.

"Really, the question about the question is: Do you mean 'How many hours a day are you allocating to your job,' vs. 'How many hours are you doing useful work for your employer?" Job is easily 9-10 a day. Useful work is capped around 5. Overhead chews (from expense reports to travel arranging, to yet another bozo who couldn't be bothered coming to the meeting needing to be filled in) up the rest."

Depends on your definition, III.

"I've worked 2 kinds of jobs, proactive and reactive. The reactive kind is stuff like help desk or sysadmin. Your presence is required for 8 hours (or more!), but during that time, you don't have constant work. You work when an issue flares up (which is why it's often compared to being a firefighter). Some dweebs look at you 'not working' and think 'what a waste' or 'if you're bored, I have something for you to do,' but in the end, those are distractions, since those jobs require one to be instantly available.

"In a proactive job, the work is fairly continuous. My engineering jobs of late have been like this. When I run out of stuff to do automating the security needs of a large government 3-letter agency, I move into server upgrading/modernization, or building a cluster solution, figuring redundancy and fault tolerance into the overall design. In my architecture work, there are always opportunities to innovate new solutions and designs."

There were those who see employers keeping score.

"Usually 9-10 per day. If anyone isn't pulling an equal amount of the load around here, they have a bull's eye on them for the next round of layoffs. In fact, at this point, anyone working less than nine is pretty much a guaranteed casualty."

And not everyone sees a choice in the matter.

"I'm an EE working in hardware development at a tech company in the upper Midwest. Our workload and schedules are insane, yet the company is in the midst of still more layoffs. My to-do list continually grows. At the moment, it's well over 100 non-trivial items and tasks. Each single item is roughly four to 40 hours of concentrated work and at least a half-dozen of them are supposedly my top priority depending on who I ask at any given time. I arrive at 7 a.m. and leave at 6 p.m. I take an hour lunch at most, and at best I get to spend maybe 15 minutes across the entire day checking news sites, including Slashdot. I'm salaried, and thus not eligible for any OT. I know many other hw engineers in the same boat."

There was the obligatory "Office Space" reference.

"Yeah, but if you could go ahead and come in on Sunday too that would be great, yeah."

And a lot of veering off on tangents.

That said, a careful study of my past shows that 40% of my "sick" days have been taken on either Monday or Friday.

OK, I know what you're asking now: How many hours a day do I really work?

Somewhere between enough and too many. 

(Tuesday update: Among the Slashdot comments was one titled, "Retired, but working more than ever." It's extremely sad and not directly related to the Slashdot poll, but I thought it was worth sharing, so you can find it in this separate post.)

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