Thursday, May 31, 2007

Work: When Less is More

I have been saying for years that Americans simply work too much. And by work too much, I mean that Americans are "at work" for too long not that we get too much done. You see, every person has a limit and at some point in the day, almost everyone gets a little burned out. I know that in the latter part of the day, I have no ability to focus on much at all.

So I found This Article in The NYT rather interesting.

The thing is, *everyone* I know wastes time at work. People might be clocked in for 8 hours a day but no one does 8 hours of work or rather no one does 8 times the work they do in a really productive hour. Some people work slower the rest of the time. Some people take lots of "mini-breaks" where they surf the net or just stare off into space when management takes measures to stop the web surfing. Some people chit chat with their co-workers. There are a million different ways to goof off at work.

The managers where I work have done everything they can to limit goofing off. They break up conversations so no one can chit chat. They have designed the work space so that everyone's monitors are in view so they can just walk up and down the aisles to make sure no one surfing. They monitor people as closely as they can.

But it doesnt work. One of the things I observe with great interest is all the many ways people hide their goofing off. They have mirrors in their cubes so they can see if a manager is coming. They also have ears which allow them to hear the managers walking towards them. They chit-chat only with co-workers who work near them so both talkers can remain seated since the primary way management knows they are talking is when they see them standing up. Generally people put great energy into hiding their goofing off. Some people I know who work in other jobs make it a point to go to work early and to stay late just so the boss will think they are hard workers. When I ask them if they think they get more done by doing that, they almost always say that they dont get more work done or they only get a little bit more done. The extra time is purely for appearances.

But what if people didnt have to do that? What if people really were judged on the amount of work they do rather than how busy they appear to be while at work. What would happen if people focused just half of all that energy into work? Would they be more productive? I think that most people would be. And most people would find themselves a bit less stressed out and that goes double for people with families. Sometimes I think about the impact such a change in the working culture would mean to people who raise children or care for elderly relatives, I get all angry that we dont have a movement blooming where workers demand it.

But then, I think that a lot of people, managers and workers alike, simply cannot believe that most people will do the same amount of work in six hours a day as they do in eight. When I go off on this particular rant (which is one of my favorites, as anyone who hangs out with me face to face can tell you.), I am always amazed at how many people just can't believe it is true. Or they believe that it is because people are lazy and if they could just come up with some better method to make sure people goof off less, they could squeeze more work out of people.

Oh well, maybe someday


portuguesa nova said...

Holy crap. Your office sounds like the gestapo.

Anonymous said...

I remember asking to take half of a day off for some reason and still being able to get my entire days worth of 'To Do's done in half the amount of time. Mainly, I think I was super jazzed about being able to leave early and the incentive gave me wings.
You are soooo right about this subject, I was one of those major time wasters... I hated being at work- not really the work itself, just being there.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to figure out how your finite amount of work theory applies to my day. I mean, it simply doesn't. The patient I'm assigned to at 6:00 pm gets the same standard of care that the 8:00 am patient gets. Either that, or I'll be looking for a desk job somewhere in another field.

Take this to Grex, maybe. It would spark an interesting discussion.

-Mary Remmers

Lynne said...

Mary, you *think* that the quality of care that the 6pm patient gets is the same as the quality of care that the 8am patient gets but are you SURE. Sometimes the difference in quality of care is not easily noticed by the person performing the care because of selective observation.

It would be interesting to do a study of medical mistakes based on how long a nurse or doctor has been working. I suspect that the longer someone has been on a shift, the more likely they are to make a mistake. I also imagine that the relationship isnt strictly linear (i.e. the 6pm patient very well may be getting a very similar standard of care as the 8am patient but what about the 10pm patient or the 2am patient?)

Anonymous said...

I suspect the biggest difference in quality of care does not relate to how long a nurse has been on duty but rather to the work ethics of each employee. If it's important to you do do a good job at 0600 it will be just as important (and doable) at 1800. Really.

There are limits to this in terms of endurance which is why there are rules whereby a nurse is prohibited form working more than 16 hours straight. I find that reasonable.

-Mary Remmers