STATE OF THE UNION: My next company will be different. No more late nights. No more monomaniac workaholics. Less heat, more light. Call it the 80% company

STATE OF THE UNION: My next company will be different. No more late nights. No more monomaniac workaholics. Less heat, more light. Call it the 80% company - My first job over here was with a company of 120%-ers. It said so on the web site, without further

by NICK DENTON, founder-chairman, Moreover Technologies;e-mail: nick@moreover.com or visit www.nickdenton.org
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

My first job over here was with a company of 120%-ers. It said so on the web site, without further explanation, as if it were self-evident that employees of a successful startup would work more than humanly possible.

'Are you a 120%-er?' I was asked in my interview. Intoxicated with stories of kids with sleeping bags under their desks and a mission to change the world, I answered unhesitatingly: yes, totally. Just as I later put aside my awkward English reserve and joined in on the high-five celebratory greeting when the incompetent programmers produced another line of code.

That particular company went bankrupt; the frenetic activity of the dot.com years has produced about a dozen lasting companies and a generation of burned-out cynics. They will never again believe that a business can be built on enthusiasm - and venture capital - alone.

And this is why I intend my next company to be different. No more late nights. No more monomaniac workaholics. Less heat, more light. If I keep my nerve, I'm going to institute a four-day week as the norm. Call it the 80% company.

It is a controversial notion, particularly in the US, where people work longer hours than anywhere else in the developed world. In Silicon Valley, the connection between success and long hours is so much assumed that venture capitalists are said to make investment decisions, in part, on the number of cars at night in a company's parking lot.

I could say that I have come to that conclusion from a study of international productivity statistics.

The International Labour Organization points to labour productivity growth - that is, productivity growth allowing for the impact of capital spending.

In the 1980s and 1990s, as US workers put in longer and longer hours - 1,966 per annum compared with 1,560 in Germany - labour productivity rose much more rapidly in western Europe. This is despite the fact that annual working hours have been going up in the US, while they've been on the decline or remained steady in Germany, France and other western European countries.

One could draw conclusions from France's Loi Aubrey, which legislated for a 35-hour week. France outstrips the US in output per man-hour. When workers in the UK had to work three days a week in the 1970s to save power, production dropped only marginally.

But I've dug out these statistics only to justify a gut feeling: that part-timers are simply more effective, and just plain nicer to have around.

At Moreover Technologies, we employed a marketing writer called Eric who did not really want the job. He was, and is, a novelist, but reluctantly supplements his income with part-time commercial work. Open about his lack of commitment, Eric would achieve more in three days than others in a week, and with much less fuss.

Generalizing a little, part-timers are better employees first of all because they are more disciplined. It is an item of faith among part-timers with young children that they are more efficient than their full-time (usually male) counterparts, because they can't procrastinate. They simply have to get everything done by 5.30pm in order to relieve the child care.

Second, part-timers focus on the job rather than their own psychological needs. Someone who writes a novel out of hours - or looks after children, or scales cliffs on Fridays - is less likely to have a mental breakdown over the company's decision to target larger corporate customers.

Third, part-timers are more loyal. It is so hard in corporate America to find a part-time job with real status that no-one can easily afford to leave. Once an employee has tasted the delights of another 52 days off each year, they will not want to go back to the US norm: most working Americans get less than three weeks of paid vacation each year.

It is true, that part-timers lack single-minded drive. To which I would counter: yes, thank God. The creative and driven individuals who populated the management of most dot.coms spent far too much of their time arguing strategy, concluding meaningless deals and politicking. Give me someone who is in it for the wage cheque, any day.

There is just one problem with hiring part-timers. The obsessive full-timers. They dislike the idea that someone else has a life outside work; they complain about absent part-time colleagues; and, above all, they resent reporting to someone who puts in fewer hours. That means, in practice, that it is difficult to put part-timers into management positions, even though they often have the right, calm and organized temperament.

So my solution: employ only 80%-ers. Close down on Fridays. That way an employer can hire people with a life outside work, and give them a career path. Yes, you too can become a CEO one day. An 80% CEO, that is.

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