Thursday, 24 February 2005

Fixed quantity of labour fallacy

by Charles Pooter

According to the TUC, IT workers work more unpaid overtime than almost any other profession and has declared 25th February "Work your proper hours day". From personal experience this rings true. However, by highlighting this as a problem the TUC are committing what I will the call the "Fixed quantity of labour fallacy". They erroneously subscribe to the view that what is important is the amount of time worked, not the amount of work that is achieved.

In some cases the amount of time worked and the amount of work done are proportional. If you work on a production line in a factory, under the ever present gaze of a manager, then you will probably get a similar amount of work done each day. You'll also clock off as soon as you can. However, most IT work is an intellectual enterprise and different people work at different speeds. Some work very constantly and efficiently throughout the day. Some take time out to surf the web, drink coffee or write blog entries (!). Some programmers are very slow and cautious, recompiling and running after every few lines of code added. Others program like James Joyce writing a novel, throwing down a stream of consciousness into their editor.

The point is: in IT and many other professions, it's not the hours that count, but getting the job done.

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