The Death of Downtime

Are you planning on fitting in a few extra hours of work tonight?  Chances are the answer is yes.  According to a recent study by Forbes Insights, only 2% of employees, from managers to CEOs, said they never work weekends or nights.  Of the 98% that do after-hours work, nearly half of them do so on a regular basis.

Newer technologies, such as smart phones, are frequently implicated.  These “remote-office” tools allow work to be conducted at any time, anywhere (including, while on “vacation”).  Of course, these are just tools – it’s the individual that decides how they’re used.

There is no question that our workplaces have changed, but the reasons are not straightforward.  It goes beyond “unrealistic employer expectations”.  Employees themselves are increasingly seeking flexible jobs with the ability to telecommute.  And in turn, employers are responding by making it easier to work at a moment’s notice.

I once had the pleasure of meeting a Google employee.  Google is one of the most sought after companies to work for, and is often touted as the “ultimate” workplace.  The employee proudly regaled me with stories about Google headquarters, commonly known as Googleplex.  It did sound like a great place to work, but I also saw something more ingenious.  Google has blurred the lines between work and home.  Employees can work while commuting to Googleplex on the wifi-enabled Google train.  Services, such as laundry, are provided, reducing the need to go home and do “chores”.  Recreational activities are provided on-site.  And catered gourmet meals are provided – but are carefully timed.  An early breakfast and a late supper entice workers to arrive early and stay late if they wish to partake.  Google had truly made it possible to work whenever, wherever.  And while I saw this as an open door to overwork, this employee only saw perks.

Is there a problem with working more than the standard 40 hour week?  Surely working more hours means you get more done?

Aye, there’s the rub.

Several studies have consistently shown that workers who clock in over 40 hours per week are not more productive.  Studies of industrial workplaces, for example, have shown that workers produce the same number of widgets in an 8 hour day as a 10 hour day.  With the exception of occasional overtime (and I do mean occasional), working longer does not equate to increased productivity.

But there are more important implications than just productivity.  We sacrifice our leisure time for work time, and as a result have more stress and less time for family and friends.  So if we’re not accomplishing more, why do people do it?  In a Wall Street Journal article, Laura Vanderkam succinctly points out that there is a strong correlation between how busy we are and how important we feel; ironically, overwork is way of showing we are dedicated to our jobs and families.

Seems counter-productive, no?

With information from:

Do you do extra work on evenings and weekends?  How do you evaluate your productivity?  What impact does extra work have on your personal life?


Posted on April 24, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. II have had many jobs with many companies; some with amazing “perks” (season tickets, travel, onsite chef, etc). The one job I most enjoyed and the perk offered at that company? The alarms couldn’t be deactivated before 8:45, and they went live again at 5:15. You weren’t allowed in the building before 9, and you weren’t allowed to work after 5. Literally. They shut the doors at 5pm and you weren’t permitted in the office. No exceptions. Business calls and emailing on the weekends were highly frowned upon, and serial weekend workers (communicating with staff) were often reported to ownership. Those people were then “strongly encouraged” to knock it off – as “you’re taking family/personal time away from someone else and decreasing their quality of life and ultimately affecting the quality of their work in the office”. Not kidding. The culture became “if you work outside of 9 to 5, you’re hurting the company and the people with whom you work”.

    I hated it. For about a month. Then I got it. Everyone in the company worked feverishly from 9 to 5 because they didn’t have a choice. Work was work. Personal time was personal time. And you were NEVER permitted to allow one to interfere with the other. EVER. You want to see productivity?

    • Thanks for commenting, Jeff.

      I really like that idea. I don’t think that setup would be feasible in all workplaces, but it would certianly be interesting if more adopted that approach!

      Where the issue gets complicated is in industries that require “on-call” work. I’ve done it and I found it was disruptful. If on-call work is neccessary to a position, how can businesses deal with that balance? Are on-call wages sufficient, or do employers need to do more in regards to work/life balance?

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