The newspaper is full of stories these days confirming with data what most of us are feeling – it’s tough out there. Not only are people losing jobs, on top of that the people who remain are working longer hours to make up for it. As a result, according to an article in the LA Times, productivity is up – “Productivity rises as workers do more with less.”
Makes sense. Though I wonder if it is really productivity per hour as reported since what I see is so many salaried workers working longer hours – hours which wouldn’t be captured by this data I assume. Either way, I don’t like it. Effectively fear is forcing employees to agree to doing more without compensation and often even while taking paycuts and with little hope that employers will hire more staff back anytime soon. As the LA Times reports, “with people working harder in hopes of keeping their jobs, employers have less incentive to hire again.”
In the long term, I don’t believe this is sustainable for businesses or their employees. Businesses have been gaining in productivity for years while employee wages have stayed stagnant and their fixed living costs have gone up. We can only squeeze people so far – both their time and finances – before both they and our economy breaks under the pressure.
In the short term, there is one thing that both employees and employers can do to manage the increased workloads – something that in the long run will benefit workplaces and workers even when the economy recovers. That one thing? Give workers more control over how, where and when they do their work.
Research shows that people who have the ability to customize where they work and when they start and stop find that they can work many more hours in a week and still feel better about their career-life fit than those who don’t have that flexibility. In other words, if you are asking people to work 5, 10 or 15 more hours a week, they can handle it better if they have the option to start early and finish early, or telecommute a few days a week, or take Friday afternoon off to take care of family or errands and put in hours over the weekend instead. If they have the autonomy to fit the work into their lives outside a standard 9 to 5 day, they’ll stay more sane even with the additional hours. This doesn’t just apply to “professional” jobs, those who earn less money are less likely to have much control over their employed time so are likely to benefit even more from any increases in autonomy.
If you are one of those being asked to do more – more work, more hours, more kinds of tasks – ask in return for more control over how, when and where you do your work.
If you are an employer who is asking more of the people you have left, offer and give them more control over how when and where they do the work.
This no-cost way to address the stress on workers asked to do more in the short-term may in the long-term help convince workplaces what research already says – when workers have more control and flexibility with their employed time, everyone benefits.