Could you pass The Venture’s 20/20 work productivity challenge? That is, could you lift your output by 20 per cent while working 20 per cent fewer hours, if given sufficient company support?
I know what you’re thinking: There’s no way you can produce another 20 per cent because you are already stretched and stressed to breaking point. You can barely get through each week as it is, let alone provide the equivalent of six days of output in four days.
In this work climate, only a fool would tell an employer he or she could do a lot more in a lot less time. You fear your employer would a) think you had been lazy, b) expect you to do 20 per cent extra work with no extra pay, or c) push for even higher output.
Just for a minute, push aside your company prejudices, persuasions and politics. Ask yourself: if it was my company, and I could share in the benefits of redesigning my job, could I achieve 20 per cent greater output each week in 20 per cent less time?
My guess is many employees could not meet the challenge because of their industry or the physical requirements of their jobs. Others would need to work towards the challenge over months or years.
But I wonder if a large number of white-collar employees could pass the 20/20 challenge with a bit of imagination if they knew they would share in the benefits.
What’s your view?
- Could you pass the 20/20 productivity challenge if you had more control over your job?
- What would stop you achieving it?
- How can Australian employees be more productive while working fewer hours?
I thought about productivity after Sweden’s move this month to trial six-hour work days; the reaction last month to misinformed reports that France was banning work emails after 6pm; and local commentary about a supposed worker backlash to Australia’s productivity push.
Clearly, more companies expect white-collar employees to work longer hours or put in “professional hours” because they earn “professional salaries”. I wrote about this issue for The Venture last year after a friend complained he was expected to work 50-hour weeks, despite being paid for 36 hours.
The idea of “professional hours” only tells half the story. As capital cities become more congested, and transport infrastructure more antiquated, it is taking longer for many employees to get to and from work. Days become longer, nights are interrupted with emails, and weekends are often a blur.
Anaemic wages growth, job instability, silly property prices, and potentially much larger student loans in coming years add to the life/work productivity trap and stress.
If you feel like a work slave being forced to row ever harder, against a stronger tide, you are not alone.
My problem with the productivity debate is it is almost always a macro, or top-down discussion: governments and companies talk about the need for higher productivity, or some faceless efficiency expert, consultant, accountant or manager tells workers how to be more productive.
Rarely is there serious debate about micro productivity: that is, how every worker can find ways to be more productive, and partly share in the gains, through flexible working arrangements, more time off or higher pay. Wishful thinking, I know, but it is too big a prize to ignore.
Here are seven ways to consider the 20/20 productivity challenge in your business:
1. Mutual trust
Nothing in this blog will work without mutual trust between companies and employers on productivity gains. Sadly, too many companies do not trust workers to lift productivity, and too many workers think productivity savings only go to the company. Great companies build and maintain a culture where staff strive for productivity gains without prompting or being forced.
2. Mapping your work life
I recently asked a friend over lunch if he had a busy afternoon ahead. “Not really,” he replied. “Nobody really knows what I do each day and everybody is too busy to check, anyway.” And this is a higher-paid worker in a top-100 ASX company, no less.
How can any company achieve significantly higher productivity without mapping employee workflows and understanding who does what, when and where? If they did, more companies might realise a chunk of their workforce wastes 20 per cent of each day in unnecessary tasks.
The point is: if you can’t measure employee productivity, you can’t track or manage it, or set clear expectations about the level of output required. Instead, the business turns to crude measures such as hours worked and a bums-on-seat mentality, and is vulnerable to office politics about who does what.
3. Less collaboration
The introvert in me detests open-plan offices, hot-desking, excessive meetings, and overhyped innovation theory about collaboration and creativity. Yes, group work is important, but not to the point where endless meetings leave people starting real work at 3pm each day and working late and on weekends.
I get much more work done sitting in a room, free from noise, distractions, office politics and other time-wasting activities. How many other employees would meet the 20/20 productivity challenge if they had more time to work alone, which in turn would free up more time to work with others?
4. Don’t go to work (every day)
The simplest, fastest route to meeting the 20/20 productivity challenge is working a day or two from home. As a home-based business owner, I no longer understand why people lose hours of each day commuting when their work can just as easily be done from home.
Yes, working from home part of the week is not for every person, company or industry. But it has incredible productivity benefits. You feel more refreshed, relaxed and productive, and have so much extra time to manage work/life balance issues.
Higher rates of telework should be a Federal, State and Local government priority. It would help workers, reduce traffic congestion, lower company costs, encourage more workers to live in regional centres, and help suburbs during the work day as more business takes place outside the city.
5. Limit communication
We’ve been brainwashed into believing more communication is good. More emails (copied to more people), more meetings, more performance reviews, more messages from the CEO and so on … the result is we spend too much time talking about unnecessary things, and not enough time working.
Concise, targeted, effective communication is vital. But how many people reading this blog waste a day each week in useless, poorly run meetings, or dealing with excessive company email? How many companies make a serious attempt to reduce the number and duration of meetings, and their email obsession?
My guess is many white-collar employees could achieve the second part of the productivity challenge – reducing work hours by 20 per cent – simply by stripping out unnecessary work tasks.
6. Turn staff into productivity experts
Why not ask workers, who know their job better than anyone, to find ways to become more productive? Then train staff to identify and implement productivity gains, and ensure managers lead by example in the 20/20 productivity challenge.
Surely the key to unlocking higher productivity is not only by thrusting goverment policy or extreme corporate change on workers, but by encouraging staff at every level to find gains. If Germany can manage it, why can’t Australia, with some foresight, leadership, safeguards and trust?
7. Create the right incentives – share some of the gains
A final thought: if your boss said you could have a long weekend every week, at full pay – provided you achieved 20 per cent higher output – what would you do? Put your head down to get through the extra work each week to have that cherished three-day weekend? Cull any unnecessary work task that got in the way of achieving your measured 20 per cent extra output?
My guess is you might even work fewer hours – while still achieving 20 per cent higher output – because you’re a more refreshed, relaxed and looking forward to work. But without the right incentives (or any at all in some companies) why would workers look for productivity gains?Seven ways to easily slash your hours and turbo-charge your productivity
Tony Featherstone is a specialist writer on small companies and entrepreneurs