Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Productive unproductivity

I think you should strive to have a company culture where it's ok when people leave work early. Right? It's also ok when they browse the email or the latest lolcat at work. It must be ok to do. I want it to be ok. Then why do I need to convince myself?

We should enjoy coming to work, we should be passionate about what we do, and we should produce results (regardless of coming in later than normal because its parent's day at school ... or because we're looking at non-work emails). Hey, this is idea of ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) and the idea is beautiful - it feels real nice.

In fact, whether you like it or not, I think you have to embrace some aspect of the ROWE concept. A primary reason to do so is this article from the New York Times, by Lisa Belkin. It seems we don't actually do that much work at work.

The article points to a Microsoft study - stating Americans spend 45 hours a week at work, but describe 16 of those hours as “unproductive.”

America Online and found workers actually work a total of three days a week, wasting the other two.

And Steve Pavlina (a “personal development expert”) keeps incremental logs of how he spends each working day and finds we actually work only about 1.5 hours a day. “The average full-time worker doesn’t even start doing real work until 11:00 a.m.,” he writes, “and begins to wind down around 3:30 p.m.” We all try to cover it up, but now we've seen it in writing. It must be true.

But wait .... good news! Just today I saw this New York Times piece. 'Workers who spend as much as 20% of their office time leisure browsing actually get more work done than workers who don’t'. Yes! So perhaps those folks browsing all day are your best workers?

And 'the longer you work, the less efficient you are', says Bob Kustka, the founder of Fusion Factor, a productivity and time-management consulting. Maybe realizing a work-life balance will bring a boost in productivity.

So, there you have it .... the moral of the story (though no easy task) is to get over when and how people work and focus more on the outcome.


  1. Hi Matt,

    The social contract was different for previous generations. The expectation was for workers to receive a wage based on hours worked and by how much they produced. Since most US workers don't make things for a living, it stands to reason that we don't need to work as many hours as our parents and grandparents did.

    Also, the lines between work and leisure are more blurred than ever. The same tools that make us productive at work (e.g., e-mail, IM, etc.) are the same as those we use outside of the office. This means that even when we're goofing off we're keeping our skill set sharp.

  2. I have to agree with CCC above. The basis of the psychological contract between employer and employee is hugely different and we expect more and longer hours. Personally if I don't sort some of my home stuff out whilst at will never get done.

    Our IT Director came to me the other day and declared he had been monitoring the internet usage and with much dismay Facebook was the number one visited site. My response "what else did you think it would be?".

    As long as people are productive and producing to the levels of expectation, what they do at work (within reason!) is fine by me.

  3. Thanks CCC and HRD! Interesting, and good point, that 'goofing off' can be good - keep skills honed and a network powered up.

    I think it is often very hard to embrace that work time might isn't 100% work - but we need to. It's reality and is happening anyway, you can create a nice environment boosting retention, and you are forced to focus on actual performance outcome (which should be most important).

    Thanks again for keeping me thinking ....


  4. #1) I am absolutely LOVING that you are writing this stuff!

    #2) You can expect that I will have plenty to chime in with from time to time, but feel free to tell me when my comments are getting too data heavy and I'm peddling too much of my org's reports. :-)

    #3) So glad you mentioned the ROWE program. I think it is such a cool concept and they've gotten some amazing results.

  5. kellykat - yeah! your comments are awesome! and will add a lot! do I smell guest post?