Wednesday, December 13, 2020

One Step Forward, One Step Back . .

Organizational Schizophrenia About Working Hours and Staying In Touch 24/7

Recent press reports show the sad fact that, while some companies are getting the message about trusting their workforce (and reaping the rewards that can bring), others are stuck in 19th-century attitudes of master and servant.

Nothing sums up the schizophrenic state of organizational attitudes to matters of work/life balance and the long-hours culture quite a neatly as two posts I found 24 hours apart on the Management Issues web site.

The first gives the good news. Here’s a sample:
Work should be something we do. Yet to an overwhelming extent, it has become somewhere we go, leading to the pervasive belief that productivity is somehow linked to presence.

So to hear a major-league U.S. CEO who has spent their entire career adhering to the "presenteeism" model admit: "for years I had been focused on the wrong currency. I was always looking to see if people were here. I should have been looking at what they were getting done" comes as something of a bombshell.
This refers to a BusinessWeek article about the retailer Best Buy, which has:
. . . embarked on a radical--if risky--experiment to transform a culture once known for killer hours and herd-riding bosses. The endeavor, called ROWE, for "results-only work environment," seeks to demolish decades-old business dogma that equates physical presence with productivity. The goal at Best Buy is to judge performance on output instead of hours.
So far, so good. At last one business that is trying to do something about pointless meetings, ridiculous working hours, and all the paraphernalia of detailed scheduling. The results even show benefits for the business, as well as the employees. The article says that productivity has risen an average 35 per cent in departments that have switched to ROWE.

Then, just as things are looking up, comes the inevitable setback.

The second article reports a survey carried out by U.S. executive recruiting network, ExecuNet. Here’s the essence of the report:
According to its survey of 155 executives, six out of 10 are expected to be accessible outside working hours and a further three out of 10 said that while being available after hours and on the weekends is not mandated, it is certainly implied.

That leaves just one in 10 clinging onto the precious gift of being unavailable once the office door has closed behind them.
It seems that two-thirds of those surveyed said that they regularly work remotely out-of-hours, spending an average of 11.4 hours a week performing business-related tasks outside of the office. So far from being trusted to get the job done and still arrange a sensible amount of time for the rest of their lives, these folk are being made to set work demands above everything else.

And while eight out of ten working people in Great Britain claim that flexible working would improve quality time with children, boost their productivity, and increase their loyalty, research from Eclipse Internet suggests that few companies are willing to respond to the desire for greater flexibility in working hours.

It seems that most bosses are still obsessed with the old-fashioned, Hamburger Management attitudes that being personally in control comes before everything else; that employees cannot be trusted to do what they are paid for unless you keep them constantly in sight; and that paying someone a salary is more or less equivalent to owning them, body and soul, for 24 hours out of every day.

It’s a crazy, crazy world out there.

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Charles D W said...

Interesting article I have felt that this side of the pond you are generally rated in any business you work for byt the clocl in clock out time not what you produce while at work. Is it peculiarly British obviously not...........but of course the "superheroes" always find ways of letting everyone know that they were working till 11.00 pm last night. Why were they working till 11.00 pm last night because they don't do anything during the working day and have to catch up in the evening!
Personally I would rather be at home with the family having done a good days work within the contracted hours give or take an hour or so.


12:51 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for your comment, Charles.

I've met those types who boast about how long they stay at the office and agree that the most common reason is that they are totally inefficient when they are there.

Keep reading, my friend.

12:55 PM  
Charles H. Green said...

While I agree with the potential of "modern" management practices, blackberries et al, to make our lives a constant source of distrust and neurosis, I'm not so sure these articles present as clear a case as you make it sound.

I love the first quote about managing output rather than input; well said, and the value is, as you say, clear.

Take your average executive. Allowing for national and corporate cultures, let's say they work about 50 hours per week--maybe ten more than the 9 to 5 base 40-hour week.

Some come in at 7AM; some stay until 7PM; some work Saturdays. Those particular hours--7 to 9AM, 5 to 7PM, SAturdays--are not specifically mandated now. But it's generally expected that people will be "in the office" between the core hours of 9 to 5.

When you move to much more output-based hours,the argument goes, one can go hit golf balls in midday, or take Wednesday off to see the kids in a sporting event--as long as they get their work done.

But that begs the question--when are you planning to get it done? Because while I believe there are indeed efficiencies in moving schedules around, frankly it's a bit of a hard sell to senior execs to interpret it as moving from 50 hours to 40 hours. The expectation is, and not unreasonably, that you'll still get your 50 hours in.

If so, let's say you on average take 8 hours out of the "core" 40. And of course everyone will take a different eight hours: some will come in at 10:30 every day and make it up on Sunday. Others will vary it every day, and so on.

The price you pay is there are no longer common hours kept. There's a lot to like about that, but it needs an enabler or two to make it work.

Voila, the blackberry, which can enable fast contact at any hour. And, unfortunately, it frankly makes sense to ask that people specifically plan on making some weekend time available to enable the whole organization staying in touch.

Output-based management is still better than 9-to-5 hamburger management, and yes there are still hamburger managers. But neither the ubiquity of technology nor the demand for some accessiblity by the organization strikes me as unreasonable. They are the price of flexibility.

The real onus lies on each of us as workers ourselves. Can we say no to the crackberry while at dinner or out with the kids, or do we live in fear? Can we firmly declare we're taking the day off in our voicemail or email greetings, or do we think everyone will come down on us? The best answer is simply being very clear about your intentions and your habits.

5:46 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

What you say is very sensible, Chrales, but I still have one fundamental question: Why should it be necessary for people to stay in contact outside of whatever hours they work?

Apart from a very small number of those who might genuinely need to be contacted in an emergency, I cannot see what benefit there is.

I suspect that, far from staying in touch because the business needs demand it, people stay in touch mostly because their egos demand it: they want to feel they are indispensible to the business; to believe that it simply cannot function for a few days (even hours) without their presence.

And that brings me back to the topic of this post: whether people need to be present during set hours. I can see that it helps if you want to be able to keep an eye on everyone — and if you want to know when you can schedule all those meetings. But neither of these "needs" are as strong as they are made out to be. Being present doesn't ensure that useful work is done; and most of the meetings are totally unnecessary.

I don't have definite answer. I suspect different types of business may have different needs. But asking the questions must be beneficial for everyone.

The idea of "hours of work" as the basis for employment dates back to the factory system and largely manual labor. Neither apply today, so why should it matter how many — or how few — hours anyone works, just as long as their tasks are completed and reasonable objectives met?

In a civilized world, our social objectives should be to have as few hours of required work as possible. Work is there to allow for life and liesure, not the other way around.

Keep reading, my friend.

6:17 PM  
Phil M said...

When i first arrived in Japan, where long hours are the cultural norm, from Australia, where long lunches are the cultural norm, the first things i noticed was

1. Wow, they have 3 guys doing the work that was my old job, that I'd just left.
2. Wow, They work soooooo slow.

After those observations any long hours they could work could not shock me.

But the pressure to work long hours did not come from above, it's was an implicit assumption that that is the way to work. The only conversation about work were not about what, or how, but always the hours last night, or how fatigued they were.

Now i work with guys who work normal-ish hours, the conversations about work are about the work, how it's done and the mind-blowing incompetence of others.

I think, if you are good at your job and take pride in your work, hours are not important.

6:47 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks so much for your comment and observation, Phil.

I found what you had to say quite fascinating (never having been to Japan — though I have spent time in Australia, which is a great place to be).

I couldn't agree with you more. Working should be about results and the satisfaction that you get from doing what you do — not about how many hours you work.

Keep reading, my friend.

8:34 PM  
Aaron Kassover said...

At a previous company, we tried implementing a ROWE like policy. It worked *mostly*, but we quickly discovered that a big part of being results-oriented is collaboration. With our mix of early-birds and night-owls it quickly became very difficult to get the team together. We ended up with a compromise: results-oriented with defined 'core hours'. As the company grew, so did those core hours.

I'm also reminded of an experiment I read about earlier this year where a small business went to a four day work week. From the article: "And then it hit me: there will always be more to do. Working more won’t change that." Six months later, they're still going strong.


12:20 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for your comment, Aaron. Useful and thoughtful as always.

To be honest, though, I'm somewhat skeptical about any supposed overwhelming need for "collaboration." I suspect the need is less than most people imagine. Often it's either based on collaboration=control or simply what others are used to.

I'm have come to have severe doubts about team working as a universal need. Long ago, I reached the conclusion that getting results is best achieved by giving someone the job and letting them get on with it. If there are several people involved in a single project, you rarely need to get everyone together at one time. Dealing with them individually is often simpler, quicker, and far more effective. That way, you can fit in with everyone's schedule.

Keep reading, my friend.

3:03 PM  
Anonymous said...

Maybe the problem is 50 hours of output are 'scheduled' for a 40 hour a week worker, so you just have to stay longer. DOwnsize to the point where no one can complete their workload in 40 hours and the reason becomes, YOU are not working hard enough, YOU are wasting time.
Rarely is it, THE BOSS downsized too much.
Our postal service here in Canada is based on output. It should take x hours to complete your route at normal walking speed. If you jog your route and finish at 1 instead of 4 then you go home. Management does NOT say, well since you can do your work in 5 hours instead of 8 we will give you more work. Efficiency in the individual is too often rewarded by having to take up the slack of the inefficient.

11:30 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for your comment, Anon.

What you describe is the result of Taylorism; the belief that you should work out the maximum that anyone can do and then make that the norm for everyone.

Even after nearly 100 years, people haven't worked out that it's counterproductive and uncivilized.

7:04 AM  

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