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Campaign hours are defined as the expectation that staff will work 60-to-80 hours per week during election season. Only they aren’t limited to campaigns. Many political consultants, Capitol Hill offices and advocacy groups can be seen burning the midnight oil as well.
But what does the evidence say about the wisdom of working that much overtime? Thousands of studies have been conducted by businesses themselves over the past 150 years across a wide variety of industries and workplaces. They all reach exactly the same conclusion: If you want workers to be productive and stay that way, stick to eight-hour days and 40-hour weeks.
Calling for a return to the 40-hour workweek, Sara Robinson of Alternet wrote the definitive article on the history and scholarship surrounding this subject. Here’s a quick overview:
If your job involves physical activity, you have eight productive hours per day. If you sit at a desk, you have only six productive hours, assuming you started fully rested. After twelve hours of work, you’ll hit full exhaustion. After twenty hours, your cognitive and motor skills are comparable to being legally drunk.
Burnout sets in fast. For every 10 hours of weekly overtime, you’ll need an extra day off to recover. If you try to resume a 40-hour schedule without time off, your productivity will drag for weeks. Amazingly, if you try to work 80-hour weeks consecutively, by the end of week three your productivity will be so low you would have gotten just as much done working 40-hour weeks all along.
Politics does not exempt you or your bottom line from these basic human limits. Exceeding them puts your candidacy or consultancy as well as your physical and mental health in danger. That’s why for most of the 20th century, it was seen as business malpractice and managerial incompetence to demand significant overtime.
If you’re a principal or manager, it’s up to you to establish and enforce your workplace rules and culture. You have to put actual performance over the illusion of productivity. Campaign hours may be hard to resist, but with effort you can.
Candidates and campaign managers can’t take time off during a campaign – so it’s crucial they stick to 40-hours. If they show signs of weariness or impaired judgment, it’s better to schedule time off than to let the problem get worse.
If you must insist on campaign hours before the home stretch, don’t have the entire staff working them at the same time. Otherwise, you’ll have to give them all time off to recover at the same time.
If your office must stay open early or late, create a shift system. Then hold all-staff meetings at midday when everyone is present. If your office needs to be open weekends, figure out who absolutely has to be there and who doesn’t. Anyone who works weekends should take days off mid-week. While they’re off, have an intern cover their responsibilities.
If staff can’t get their work done in 40-hour weeks, hire more staff. Seasonal, intermittent, and short-term workload problems can be addressed with part-time staff, contractors, temps, and interns.
In October, you can start ramping everyone up to 50 or 60 hours per week, but everyone should still get a day off every two weeks. The sooner campaign hours start and the more hours people work, the sooner burnout will kick in. Send people home if they’re making mistakes or seem out of it. Just make sure they understand a day off isn’t punishment – it’s to help them rest and get back on their A-game.