Fixing the Way We Work
There is a lot wrong with the way we work, but very little of this is due to new networking capabilities or communications technology. Neither can we blame increasing globalization and the demands of doing business across 24 time zones. Some of the problem is created by customers and clients and their increasing expectations that we be available day and night. Even more can be laid at the feet of leadership.
But ultimately the primary culprit is us. That's my sense of the comments concerning this month's topic.
As Dean Turner put it, "Clients increasingly have an expectation of reaching their attorneys at any hour of the day (or night) and getting responses in near-real time," he writes. "Reaching across time zones to contact someone is a given with little consideration to what the other party might by doing. Technology is making it easier and faster … being 'on call' 24/7 is now viewed by many as the norm." Phil Clark faulted leaders for failing to provide "healthy leadership" on this issue, saying "We have created a 24/7 world that is not necessary."
The costs of this always on culture are high. Karen Fox commented that this mindset "leads to poor morale and burn out," as well as a loss of effective communication skills. Gerald Nanninga added that "it is destroying the art of pondering" and "by valuing work as a 24/7 activity we are devaluing everything else." Rita Taylor shared that she "learned the hard way" about the physical, social, and financial toll that a failure to deal with the 24/7 work mentality can trigger. As she put it, "What you ignore in your life is going to be the piece that will take the rest of your life down."
Many felt that the real problem is us. As Taat Subekti put it, "We must blame ourselves … we have full authority of our own body and mind." Mark Hebert said, "We choose to sacrifice relationships, health, and people because we are greedy for money." Wayne Brewer added he doesn't blame the tools of technology. "The responsibility lies with the individual being able to prioritize … (based on) values…"
Technology may be part of the solution. Atin Roy commented that "technology is just a tool that helps make our lives better and simple…." Margie Parikh pointed out the "leverage" that technology can provide, commenting that "who says that if I want to service my client I have to be at my desk in my office?" Tom Dolembo, who has "no choice but to be 24/7 and technologically connected "copes and even thrives by spending that 24/7 everywhere but the office to benefit from the stimulus of solving client problems while "preferably working in a garden or even petting the dog or cat."
If the problem is us, the solution may lie with us. Joe Fernandez recommended that we train ourselves to be better organized and forward looking rather than reactive. "Similar to Weight Watchers, we need to partner with someone who can help us change."
How can we fix what's wrong with the way we work? What do you think?
This month's topic was triggered in part by the information (not fact-checked) that in several European countries where vacations are mandated, most employees take their prescribed amounts of time off. In America, where vacation time is not mandated, roughly half of workers last year had vacation time left over and failed to take an average of 11 days of earned vacation.
Then several books having to do with how to get control of our work lives and our personal networking technologies hit my desk within a matter of days. Two were of particular interest. The first, iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming Its Hold On Us, by Larry Rosen, maintains that personal networking technologies contribute to, among other things, narcissism, depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and the "Google effect," an inability to remember facts that we assume are on Google. (One factoid: Seventy percent of those who report heavy use of mobile devices experience "phantom vibration syndrome," when one's pocket buzzes and there's no phone there.)
The second book, Sleeping With Your Smartphone: How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work, by Harvard Business School Professor Leslie Perlow, describes an experiment that ultimately enabled consultants at Boston Consulting Group to reclaim at least a small portion of their lives from the onslaught of communication technology.
In her initial work Perlow chose the goal of engaging a six-person team to implement a procedure for freeing up every team member from their networking devices for one evening of PTO, "predictable time off." There could be no perceived increase in anyone's workload or deterioration in client service resulting from the PTO.She provided the group with a process for approaching the task, something she calls "structured dialogue," in which the team engaged in "Pulse Check" meetings every week to discuss their feelings about their work, about themselves, and how the PTO goal was to be achieved.
Some of the more interesting behaviors encountered by Perlow and the team members in the dialogues were triggered by a culture centered around long hours and a 24/7 focus on the needs of BCG's clients, fears that PTO would contribute to poor performance reviews, and a reluctance to discuss with colleagues personal matters that begged for free time. But as a result of the effort to achieve a small, doable change, team members succeeded in freeing up one night per week from their devices and their work.
By the time the process had been implemented in more than 900 BCG teams globally Perlow could present evidence that it had enhanced such things as excitement about their work, satisfaction with their jobs and work-life balance, and perceptions of team collaboration, efficiency, and effectiveness.
What, if anything, is wrong with this picture? (In spite of differences in labor law in the US and other countries, survey data suggest alarmingly low levels of job satisfaction in all developed economies.) Is our obsession with technology creating new kinds of potential hazards in the workplace? Is there something wrong with the way we work? What can we do about it? What do you think?
To Read More:
Leslie A. Perlow, Sleeping With Your Smartphone: How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2012).
Larry Rosen, iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming Its Hold On Us (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).