- In advertising his companies on Twitter this week, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wrote, “There are way easier places to work, but nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week.”
- Musk’s comment that you can’t change the world by working only 40 hours a week couldn’t be further from the truth.
Elon Musk is notorious for working very long hours and getting very little sleep.
He also thinks long workdays are necessary to change the world.
In a series of tweets advertising his companies this week, Musk said, “There are way easier places to work, but nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week.”
There are way easier places to work, but nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 26, 2018
Many on Twitter were quick to point out the errors in Musk’s observation:
Sometimes changing the world is not about tech; it's just something as simple as everybody going home to their children in time for tea.
— Jon Ayre (@Jon_Ayre) November 27, 2018
Lack of sleep and recharge times lowers performance. Smart people get a lot done in less time. Changing the world is not in hours, it is in impact. This is a ridiculous comment.
— Patty Brown (@OnlyPB_) November 27, 2018
If one works 80 hours a week, meaning 40 hours of overtime, for four weeks, then that would be 160 hours of overtime. This woman in Japan died of overwork after logging 159 hours of OT in one month. https://t.co/kvIka1iiKl
— Jana Monji: The Dragon Lady ???? from Pasadena (@janamonji) November 27, 2018
I teach middle school. And I change the world everyday.
— The Faux Tyler (@tylerjey) November 27, 2018
The people who fought for (including those who died) the 40 hour work week changed the world. It helped ensure corporate shills like you don't exploit people's work like you'd wish to. The labor movement is bigger than whatever self-serving agenda you're trying to achieve, buddy.
— Diana Hussein Big Hat (@heyadiana) November 27, 2018
One woman was keen to mention the example of Alexander Fleming, the scientist who changed the world by going on vacation and accidentally leaving a petri dish open near a window, leading to the discovery of penicillin.
As so many on Twitter said, changing the world has little to do with the number of hours one works and everything to do with the impact and quality of that work. Countless people have made history without the requisite of working more than 40 hours every week.
Though studies have found that working more hours generally does lead to higher corporate positions, it is also correlated with anxiety, depression, and worse sleep.
About one-third of US adults don’t get enough sleep – and Musk could probably do with a little more himself. In 2015, he said in a Reddit AMA that he sleeps “almost exactly 6 hours on average.” Earlier this year, he told The New York Times that he often logs 120-hour weeks at work and doesn’t leave Tesla’s factories for days at a time. He said he’s needed to take Ambien to fall asleep.
But studies say that sleep deprivation is ultimately harmful – it’s linked to certain cancers, chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s, and heart disease, and it can do serious damage to your immune system in general.
Of course, every person’s needs are different, and Musk’s schedule may work for him. But the health risks of more work and less sleep are undeniable, and it’s significantly more difficult to change the world if you’re sick, or dead.