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 user 2005-09-27 at 12:15:00 pm Views: 62
  • #12952

    The Real Reasons You’re Working So Hard…
    …and what you can do about it

    Honk if this sounds like
    you: While much of America is watching Jon Stewart, Letterman, or Leno,
    you’re stumbling out the office door into a car-service Town Car or
    groping for the clicker to the BMW in the company parking lot. Once
    home, you slug down a beer or the last of a bottle of white wine on the
    door of the fridge, stuff some leftovers in your mouth, and collapse
    into bed beside your sleeping spouse. A half-dozen hours later, you
    crawl to the shower, throw on a clean shirt, pour some coffee down your
    throat, maybe drop a kid or two at school, and jump back on the
    frenetic work treadmill that you can’t shut off.

    The good news — if there is any, time-challenged amigo — is that you
    are not alone. More than 31% of college-educated male workers are
    regularly logging 50 or more hours a week at work, up from 22% in 1980.
    Forty percent of American adults get less than seven hours of sleep on
    weekdays, reports the National Sleep Foundation, up from 31% in 2001.
    About 60% of us are sometimes or often rushed at mealtime, and
    one-third wolf down lunch at our desks, according to a survey by the
    American Dietetic Assn. To avoid wasting time, we’re talking on our
    cell phones while rushing to work, answering e-mails during conference
    calls, waking up at 4 a.m. to call Europe, and generally multitasking
    our brains out.

    This epidemic of long hours at the office — whether physically or
    remotely — defies historical precedent and common sense. Over the past
    25 years, the Information Revolution has boosted productivity by almost
    70%. So you would think that since we’re producing more in fewer hours,
    such gains would translate into a decrease in the workweek — as they
    have in the past. But instead of technology being a time-saver, says
    Warren Bennis, a University of Southern California professor and author
    of such management classics as On Becoming a Leader, “everybody I know
    is working harder and longer.”

    And the long-hour marathons aren’t a result of demanding corporations
    exploiting the powerless. Most of the groggy-eyed are the best-educated
    and best-paid — college grads whose real wages have risen by more than
    30% since the 1980s. That’s a change from 25 years ago, when it was the
    lowest-wage workers who were most likely to put in 50 hours or more a
    week, according to new research by Peter Kuhn of the University of
    California at Santa Barbara and Fernando A. Lozano of Pomona College.

    With so many managers and professionals stuck at work, there is a
    growing consensus among management gurus that the stuck-at-work
    epidemic is symptomatic of a serious disorder in the organization of
    corporations. The problem, in a nutshell-to-go is this: Succeeding in
    today’s economy requires lightning-fast reflexes and the ability to
    communicate and collaborate across the globe. Coming up with innovative
    ideas, products, and services means getting people across different
    divisions and different companies to work together. “More and more
    value is created through networks,” says John Helferich, a top
    executive and former head of research and development at Masterfoods
    usa, a division of Mars Inc. and the maker of such products as
    M&Ms. “The guys who are good at it are winning.”

    Unfortunately, the communication, coordination, and teamwork so
    essential for success these days is being superimposed on a corporate
    structure that has one leg still in its gray flannel suit. Without
    strict gatekeepers (read secretaries), Tom, Jane, and Harry feel free
    to plug themselves into your electronic calendar. You and a colleague
    in another part of the company may dream up a great idea for a new
    product — but it takes months to get approvals from your boss, his
    boss, and their boss. Or the corporate bigwigs order you to join a
    taskforce that is supposed to promote collaboration and innovation –
    but it ends up taking a big chunk of your time. And no matter how many
    layers of management were supposed to be taken out, there always seem
    to be more people on the e-mail distribution lists.

    You are not imagining things. Despite years of cutting corporate bloat,
    managers are a much bigger share of the workforce than they were 15
    years ago. “We’ve added a new set of standards without fully dropping
    the old,” says Thomas H. Davenport, professor of information technology
    and management at Babson College and author of the new book Thinking
    for a Living.

    That helps explain why time pressures seem to be getting worse.
    Globalization and the Internet create great new opportunities, but they
    also ratchet up the intensity of competition and generate more work –
    especially with the existing corporate structure still hanging on
    tightly. “Nobody wants to give up their territory or their control,”
    says Shoshana Zuboff, a former professor at Harvard Business School.
    Adds Lowell Bryan, a McKinsey & Co. director: “Professionals are
    still being managed as if they were in factories, in organizations
    designed to keep everybody siloed. At less well-run companies, you’re
    struck by how frustrated people are. They work like dogs and are
    wasting time.”

    Make that lots of time. Fully 25% of executives at large companies say
    their communications — voice mail, e-mail, and meetings — are nearly
    or completely unmanageable. That’s according to a new McKinsey survey
    of more than 7,800 managers around the world. Nearly 40% spend a half
    to a full day per week on communications that are not valuable. Other
    surveys echo similar results. “We’re making our people compete with
    sandbags strapped to their legs,” says Zuboff.

    A Digital Spine
    There is hope, however, and the promise of at least partial liberation
    from the tyranny of time constraints. Why? Because the long-term
    interests of individuals and smart companies are aligned. To compete,
    successful corporations will have to make it easier and less
    time-consuming for their employees to collaborate. They will learn how
    to live with fewer time-sapping meetings and unnecessary feedback loops
    – or find themselves outrun by more nimble competitors. The eventual
    result: less frustration for knowledge workers.

    Moves in this direction are already under way as savvy companies
    analyze their internal social networks and identify bottlenecks. Intel
    Corp. (INTC ), for example, sees an opportunity in creating technology
    that lowers the time cost of teamwork. And others, such as Eli Lilly
    & Co. (LLY ), are providing more corporate support for both
    internal and external networks. “It’s a new mental model for how you
    run a company,” says McKinsey’s Bryan. “The winners will be those who
    can handle more complexity.”

    At the same time we may see a rise in new forms of Web-based
    organizations where people can contribute without having their time
    eaten up by existing hierarchy. Blogs, collaborative online databases
    (called wikis) and open-source software development all use the Net to
    handle much of the coordination among people rather than relying on
    top-down command and control. Such a shift to a digital spine could
    eventually lessen bureaucratic time burdens on overworked
    professionals, especially those in such high-cost industries as health

    If history is any guide, the stuck-at-work epidemic will turn out to be
    a transitional phase. Historically, as countries and individuals get
    richer, they work less. Look at the late 19th century, when the U.S.
    was still a relatively poor country, with a per capita income about
    equal to that of China today. Back then the typical male household head
    had precious little leisure time, perhaps only about 1.8 hours a day,
    on average, after subtracting time for work, chores, and meals. The
    average factory worker put in about 60 hours a week, with only one day
    off. Indeed, the first May Day labor demonstrations, in 1886, were
    driven by the demand for an eight-hour day.

    Over time, as U.S. productivity and incomes rose, work hours dropped
    and leisure time increased. It was no coincidence that the five-day
    work week was first introduced in 1926 by Henry Ford, a decade after he
    pioneered high-efficiency, mass-production methods.

    By 1970 the 40-hour workweek was the norm. And, at least until
    recently, European and Asian countries have followed the same
    trajectory of declining work hours. Since 1991 average annual work
    hours have dropped by 11% in Japan, 10% in France, 6% in Germany and
    Britain, and 5% in South Korea. Meanwhile, average monthly work hours
    in Taiwan are down by 7% over the same stretch. Even work hours in
    China, while still much higher than in the U.S., may be coming down.
    “Asians are poorer and still working like crazy,” says Alberto Alesina,
    a Harvard University economics professor who has studied international
    work hours. “But as they get richer, they are taking more leisure.”

    The one real exception to the rule has been the U.S. Since 1991 the
    U.S. has grown substantially faster than Europe and Japan.
    Nevertheless, average annual work hours are down by less than 2%, and
    that includes all the low-skilled workers who are in less demand today.

    Interestingly, there are signs that global competition is forcing
    Europeans to start moving away from their tradition of shorter work
    hours. The number of Germans working more than 40 hours a week rose
    sharply last year, to 5.3 million from 4.7 million. Siemens (SI ),
    DaimlerChrysler (DCX ), Deutsche Bahn, and many smaller companies have
    been able to increase work hours without corresponding increases in
    pay. French workers seem to be putting in more hours in the past year
    or two as well.

    European executives are sounding more and more like their American
    counterparts. “Ten years ago, if I was on a business trip, I’d get to
    my hotel in the evening, and there might be a message or two from my
    secretary and a couple of faxes,” says Philippe Midy, a Paris-based
    executive at McDonald’s (MCD ) Europe who travels extensively around
    the Continent dealing with supply and logistics issues. Now there’s a
    deluge. “Sometimes I’m answering e-mails at 2 a.m.”

    At least at the moment, long hours are part of the price to be paid for
    faster growth, especially if you work for a multinational. “If you are
    going to be a participant in economic activity that is part of a
    globalized market,” says Stephen S. Roach, chief economist for Morgan
    Stanley (MWD ), “you need to be prepared to stretch beyond 9 to 5.”

    Companies have been willing to pay big bucks for those longer hours.
    Over the past 15 to 20 years, people working a 40-hour week received
    virtually no increase in real pay, according to research by Kuhn and
    Lozano. Yet employees putting in a 55-hour week saw their real pay rise
    by 14%. The implication: The gains of two decades of growth have mainly
    gone to ambitious — or fearful — Americans who are working longer

    But even high pay can’t compensate for unrelenting time pressure. Top
    managers have to realize that encouraging networks and collaboration
    demands as much attention and resources as supervising and measuring
    performance in traditional ways. Most companies have built up large
    human-resources departments, but few have a department of
    collaboration. “Most managers don’t manage social networks
    effectively,” says Babson’s Davenport.

    At Intel, the drive to reduce the time spent sharing knowledge and
    collaborating is an outgrowth of efforts to better coordinate far-flung
    operations that stretch from Israel to India. One idea being pursued by
    Luke Koons, director for information and knowledge management, is
    “dynamic profiling” — technologies that automatically summarize areas
    on which a researcher or a manager is focusing, based on the subjects
    of their e-mails and Web searches. Such a regularly updated profile
    could make it less time-consuming to locate potential collaborators and
    resources, an especially daunting prospect in a large,
    innovation-minded company such as Intel. Equally important, dynamic
    profiling doesn’t force individuals to spend hours manually updating
    their profiles as their focus changes.

    The Off Switch
    There’s plenty of demand for new technologies that more efficiently
    foster collaboration, such as software that allows virtual meetings,
    where everyone doesn’t need to be present simultaneously. “Our
    communication tools are woefully inadequate,” says Alph Bingham, a top
    executive at Eli Lilly who is vice-president of e.Lilly. “We are still
    relying on sticking everyone in a room and hammering it out. It’s
    untenable globally.”

    Another time-eater: all the meetings and e-mails required to manage
    details of a collaboration or partnership. “Organizations need to
    recognize that when you engage in collaboration, there’s another level
    of complexity,” says Bingham. Part of the solution is to hire people
    for a new type of position devoted to facilitating or managing networks
    and relationships. Lilly, for example, created a new internal group –
    almost like ombudsmen — to manage communications among Lilly
    scientists and myriad outside partners. “This allows the scientists to
    dedicate less of their time to the collaboration,” says Bingham.

    Adding new software and more people to reduce the cost of collaboration
    is great — as long as it doesn’t create even more work. To really ease
    the work overload — and, not coincidentally, make corporations more
    nimble — it’s also essential to identify and eliminate unnecessary
    interactions. “Sometimes people need to remind themselves that there is
    an off switch — and use it,” says Paul Saffo, a director at the
    Institute for the Future, a think tank based in Palo Alto, Calif.
    “Solitude is the scarce resource in business lives — having that time
    when you are disconnected and realizing that everything will go along
    fine without you.”

    To reduce time pressures — and hike productivity — the number of
    low-value interactions must be cut. “The usual assumption is that more
    collaboration is better,” says Rob Cross, an assistant professor at the
    University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce who also runs
    Network Roundtable, a research group whose members include Schlumberger
    (SLB ), Microsoft (MSFT ), Intel, Merck (MRK ), and BP. “But it’s
    important to ask not just where we need to build and connect but where
    do we need to let go?”

    By having workers fill out a 15- to 20-minute online survey, Cross can
    chart who people communicate with, how much time is spent preparing for
    which meetings, and where the bottlenecks are. “Then I ask executives:
    ‘What decisions are you making that others can make?”‘ says Cross. “Are
    there aspects of your role that you could let go of?”

    Masterfoods used this methodology to map out how its product
    development, packaging, and process-development staff spent their time.
    The results were surprising. “When we looked at the data, it turned out
    that it was too hard to do business internally,” says Helferich, then
    head of Masterfoods’ R&D. People had to talk to 30 or 40 other
    people just to get their jobs done, which took away from their time to
    work on new ideas. Notes Helferich: “We were high-density on task and
    low-density on innovation.” Now Masterfoods is in the process of
    redesigning the workflow of the packaging group to eliminate a lot of
    the extraneous steps that took up time.

    If you are high enough in your organization, you can simply choose when
    to make yourself unavailable. Bryan, one of McKinsey’s top consultants,
    says he has given up cell phones and computers, letting others handle
    his communications. “I never had time to think,” says Bryan. “It’s
    amazing how much you can get done if you don’t spend all your time

    Many of the most overloaded managers are not yet at a level where they
    have the luxury of controlling their schedules or dispensing with
    unproductive e-mails, pesky voice mails, and interminable meetings. But
    in terms of reducing work overload, perhaps the biggest and most
    difficult step will be for corporations to give their knowledge workers
    more freedom over their own time. “The Industrial Age approach to
    management dies a pretty tough death,” says Babson’s Davenport. “Even
    today people end up being evaluated not only on how much they produce
    but also on how many hours they are in the office.”

    Of course, there’s one shiny new example of where output matters more
    than process: the Web. Nobody cares how long it took or what time of
    night it was when someone wrote a blog entry — all that’s seen is the
    final result. Similarly, the success of open-source development
    projects such as Linux and Apache, the most popular Web server
    software, rests on the competence of the programmers involved, not on
    how many hours they log.

    Reclaiming Your Life
    The web model may give a glimpse of a less overloaded way of life that
    lets people take charge of their time while still making a decent
    living and a real contribution to society. Take Ted Husted, a
    46-year-old freelance software consultant who lives in a Rochester
    (N.Y.) suburb. These days he consults 32 hours a week, remotely, for
    the Oklahoma Environmental Quality Dept., down from 40 as recently as
    this summer. But he also spends 10 to 15 hours a week as a major
    contributor to the Apache open-source software project.

    Now he has time on weekends to watch his kids play sports. He goes out
    to lunch with his wife, Barb, every Monday. And he even has time left
    over to contain the fast-growing maple trees on his corner lot.
    Meanwhile, his work on the open-source project garners him visibility
    and respect among his peers. “I think I can keep this pace up
    indefinitely,” says Husted. “But I have to have discipline about it.
    Now I make sure there’s at least one day when I don’t even touch a

    Few people will ever make a living as a blogger or a contributor to an
    open-source software project. But there is pressure to find new ways of
    organizing work, from both corporations and overworked individuals. “In
    terms of hours, I keep thinking we’re on the verge of a backlash,” says
    Babson’s Davenport.

    Try telling that to Ken Middleton, director of convention sales for
    Houston’s Convention & Visitors Bureau. In the aftermath of
    Hurricane Katrina, he has been putting in grueling 70-hour weeks
    hustling to find space for meetings that had been scheduled for New
    Orleans. Even in normal times, though, he works 55 hours a week,
    including four to six hours on weekends. Does he feel overworked?
    “Absolutely — but doesn’t everyone? My wife says I need to get a hobby
    and stick to it. There isn’t time for that right now.” Who has even a
    moment for a backlash?