Basecamp's "Work Can Wait" Pledge - Why We're Not Recommending It.

Basecamp is running a campaign asking people to pledge that they will limit their work to 40 hours a week and ask others in their organization to do the same. Those taking the pledge get to show off with a badge that says “Being tired isn’t a badge of honor. The idea that no one needs to be overworked is laudable, but their 40-hours-a-week-for-all approach to fixing this problem is something we wouldn’t recommend to anyone. Here’s why.



There is research that says many successful musicians and authors work in short, intense bursts of only four hours a day. At the same time, we also hear that the celebrated Indian prime minister Narendra Modi maintains an eighteen-hour workday. “He is up and running at 5:30 am,” says one of his ministers, “even after going to bed well after 1 a.m.” In spite of this, watch any video of him and you won’t find the faintest sign of stress or exhaustion. Since a successful business involves similarly diverse roles and personalities, having the same definition of overwork sweeping across all of them makes little sense.

The adage people who do things that count do not stop to count them” is especially true in a world where the lines between work and play have become very thin. Here’s an example: I went to Twitter while on a break. I saw a #WorkCanWait badge on my stream. Reading further, I discovered something I fundamentally disagreed with and felt I needed to write about it. I discussed this with some folks over casual conversations. I dumped my ideas in a document, and revised them over the day. A colleague edited this and we arrived at the final draft. Can you tell me exactly where in this process my break ended and my work began? And more importantly, is it even worth measuring this?

When you take this pledge, you are in effect creating a policy. And this is something that Basecamp itself has referred to as “organizational scar tissue.” At Zoho, we avoid overwork not with a policy but by maintaining an informal culture that imparts a strong sense of freedom. The leadership makes it clear that what matters most is how employees perform and not how long they work or when they come and go. Even when they are at the office, no one is tied to their chairs. There are facilities for indoor and outdoor games. There are spaces all around where people sit together and talk. There is unrestricted wifi access. At a glance, it is difficult to say who is working and who is not.

We find that people use this freedom to figure out what works best for them. We recently conducted an internal cricket tournament where about half the company participated. And around the same time, we also pulled off a major launch.

Being tired isn’t a badge of honor.  Neither is being nannied by an organization. If you want to wear a badge, wear one which says you’re bold and free!


13 Replies to Basecamp's "Work Can Wait" Pledge - Why We're Not Recommending It.

  1. The surgeon example cannot be mapped to all scenarios. I have been an IT professional, and found that unlimited access to twitter and other social networks is at best distracting. Perhaps, inside an IT company, the roles decide how the work should be. A developer needs private space and time, without distraction for concentrating on coding. Whereas a marketing guy needs to be always connected, because his role is based on people networking. There is no general rule to fix for all.

  2. I disagree entirely with this argument that Basecamp's efforts to let people live their own lives while still giving MOST of their life to the company already. 40 hours is a LOT of time, if you can't get crap done in that many hours you're doing it wrong. First off, the cartoon is a total non sequitur, surgeons are not doing "crunch time" surgeries and burning the midnight oil, they are specifically limited as to not be working under fatigue like airline pilots, experimental surgery sessions aside. Second, this scenario described where employees blur the line between work and life is something that makes executives salivate but for employees serves as indentured servitude or at least a long digital leash. Taking long breaks during work hours and other such "benefits" only serves to condition employees to stay long hours and work after hours because of new communication technologies. This kind of work style may be common but not utopian, it's simply a bad habit. Real work should have a beginning and end so people can go home and enjoy the things they were really put on the planet for (e.g. not enriching a few shareholders and VCs).

    1. Thank you for your comments. The limitation in work hours for surgeons is not practical everywhere. For example, in many places in rural India people have to travel more than a hundred kilometers to get health care. There are just not enough professionals to meet the demand. If surgeons in such places took a 40 hour pledge, it would mean abandoning patients in a critical condition. I have seen health care professionals in such settings working for long spells (and this includes travel to remote regions) without tiring, because their passion to serve itself acts as a source of enthusiasm; it is not all about the time! Regarding your second point, there are employees here too who work in a rigid schedule and have clear lines between work and personal life. But the point is, this is something they have chosen on their own; they are not following it to conform to an organizational policy.

  3. I agree though it seems the statement about focused period is the key. Some can do that within a 40 hour window, others don't.

  4. While I agree with the basic premise of this article; that the best working environment is one where the employees are free to work to schedules (and in ways) that suit them, I don't think the article gives enough credit to Basecamp for their well-intentioned pledge. Instead of providing a balanced opinion on Basecamp's efforts, the tone of the article sounds more like an opportunistic jibe at a competitor. I applaud what Zoho has done, as described above, but I think it's also true that Basecamp are taking a step in the right direction.

    1. Thanks Riley. The intention was not to take a jibe. We had a different POV on this. We wanted to put that out and have a healthy debate.

  5. 8 hours is minimum duty time. Employees should work sincerely and complete their daily job before leaving the work place. This is people expectation.

    1. You have a valid point here, but in real life, there are cases where the only alternative to a surgeon clocking more than 40 hours is no surgeon!

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