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Innovation

The software lifestyle could be deadly

This may be a problem with no solution. Those who regularly work overtime have a 60% greater risk of a heart attack when all other risk factors were taken out.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

I know my dear wife has been working hard this last year, but until today I didn't know it was killing her.

My wife is a computer programmer, and like programmers since Fred Brooks researched his The Mythical Man Month she lives a programmer's lifestyle.

That is, when the pressure's on you work like stink. When the pressure's off you relax just as hard.

This is why smart development companies from Microsoft to Google build offices with the look-and-feel of college dorms or play forts. It looks like you want to spend all your time there because, sometimes, you have to.

When Jenni is on a "push," it's painful to watch. Recently she spent 14 hours at her desk one day, 10 hours the next, and then felt guilty when she thought about working from home a third day in a row. (She wound up commuting in a deluge and getting in three hours late.)

But now comes word, from the European Heart Journal, that she and every other programmer who works this way may be putting their lives at risk.

A study of 6,000 British civil servants (bureaucrats to you and me)  followed for 11 years found those who regularly worked overtime had a 60% greater risk of a heart attack over that time, when all other risk factors were taken out.

An accompanying editorial notes that only a small portion of the difference might be explained by the workaholic "Type A" personality.

It's true. Jenni's not a Type A, and her story is not atypical.

Especially during the last recession Americans have divided into two camps, those who are working too hard and those who are not working at all. Unemployment, measured as high as 17%, is being accompanied by a constant push on salaried employees who retain jobs.

Some of this, as I say, is normal. Brooks has famously noted that "nine women can't make a baby in one month." Adding programmers to a project that is late just makes it later, because the labor you gain is lost in training the new people and coordinating everything.

So a certain amount of overtime is inevitable. And more-and-more projects operate in the way software does. Whether you're launching a new product, or re-tooling a factory, or staging a political campaign, the average 40 hour work week is a myth.

This may be a problem with no solution, in other words. Which means after this project is over my dearly beloved is getting a nice long vacation.

What else can we do for those we love?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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