Friday, August 10, 2007

Fridays @ Work: Productivity

Productivity is a fascinating concept when you think about it.

The initial definition is not too out-there.

pro·duc·tiv·i·ty (prō'dŭk-tĭv'ĭ-tē, prŏd'ək-)The quality of being productive.
Economics The rate at which goods or services are produced especially output per unit of labor.
Ecology The rate at which radiant energy is used by producers to form organic substances as food for consumers.

However, what spurs productivity? How is productivity truly encouraged, measured, and rewarded? The answers to these questions may suprise The Boss.

Being interested in a topic, and invested in a project's outcome, spurs productivity. The more an outcome is directly meaningful to a worker, the less difficult it is to be productive. Additionally, productivity can be spurred in some unusual ways. For example, play and humor can spike levels of productivity. Google doesn't just give its workers crazy cool perks just to "Not Be Evil". Nope, it is a solid business decision to encourage creativity and productivity.

Refreshed, amused, happy-to-be-alive workers are powerhouses. Sometimes taking frequent breaks leads to a greater amount of work achieved in the long run. Ever catch yourself rereading a sentence in that business letter over and over again? Catch yourself working for too long on a PowerPoint graphic? Get up and stretch your legs. The goal is not to see who can be chained to his or her computer for the longest unbroken stretch of time!

However, there is a dark side to this argument. As many a current or previous temp secretary can tell you...there is an art to Looking Busy. If you don't look busy every minute of every day, people start to look askance at you. Even if you worked really hard, in a concentrated and focused manner, on the previous task, taking a break is never truly allowed. You have to Look Busy or you get the boot. Even without anything in the In box. Full timers (or people who have always been full timers) don't even see that talking about Jane's bad back, Peter's trip to Spain, or the latest customer hijinks are actually non-work activities, just like when you might, say, mail a letter or make a blog entry. So most of us have learned the scary art of Looking Busy. In truth, we should learn the more subtle art of being honest to ourselves, our companies, our coworkers, and our bosses.

Taking a break is good for you. There, I said it, I've blasphemed. No, I do not believe that you get to brag about working 14 hours straight-- especially if I could do the work in 8 hours with breaks. Just filling time with seriousness does not a productive worker make.

So, what can the well-meaning boss do? Well, judge people by their actual productivity. How much work is done. Not the manner in which that work is completed. If I can work better with my dog on my lap, with a mouthful of Krispy Kreme, why would you want to stop me? If a trip to the water cooler every hour makes the rest of the 55 minutes in the hour twice as productive, why the heck not?

Finally, how can productivity be rewarded? Well, PAY is always a good thing. However, public praise can be useful (if not overused). Also, let your workers know that productive moments need breaks in between. Understand that we're all different. And for heaven sake, have some fun. We know that junkets to customer sites aren't all bad, that the wine-ing and dining isn't 100% pure torture. Admit to the fact that your 15-hour days weren't all time "strapped to the rack". Some of those hours were time for bs-ing, talking about your children, watching tv, or eating room service. Sure you needed that time to be productive. But practice what you preach. Let's all just be honest about our jobs, our needs, our strengths, and our weaknesses. How many hours in the day do you actually want to pay me to be uptight about things like pretending to be something I'm not?

Playing the Look Busy game is so BORING. Wake up people.

Much love, as always, with my angst,


FranIAm said...

As usual, another brilliant observation from Rion.

"Hard work", "productivity" and "good metrics" are the contemporary red badges of courage in the US workplace.

Whenever I hear someone waxing on about how hard they work, how long, how busy they are, I immediately grow suspicious.

Engagement is essential and that can be gained by creating work teams that are less hierarchal, more creative and have channels for appropriate praise, feedback, flexibility and yes some money.

Money is never the end all or be all. Anyone who is solely motivated by that is suspect in my eyes. That sounds more judgmental than I wish, but...

Anyway, leaders must lead via service and courage and not by demands. And workers must understand that their passion counts.

Sadly, so few US workplaces allow for such.

Have you read Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi? You might be interested.

Nubia said...

that dog is so cute! (Sorry I have nothing more intelligent to say right now but I've used all my brain cells up dealing with work stuff this morning!) =)