I’ve always said there are two measures to use in order to assess the value of someone at work.
The first measures the output someone delivers in a working day. Output can be compared to the horse power rating for a car. Some individuals can deliver a high output whilst others never match up to the delivery of high output individuals.
The other measure I view as important is focused on the quality of the work. When someone has high output, but quality is lacking then there is a problem.
For me the best people are those who provide high output and high quality.
I’ve been reading about Americans at work and recent research concludes they are working too much. In the US workers labour more hours than their counterparts in just about every similarly rich country, including Japan, Canada, and the UK. If the average American worked as much as the typical German, they would find themselves with about 30 extra days off per year.
There are many reasons behind America’s overwork including government policy that has eroded labour rights for decades. Examples such as the fact there is no federal guarantee for vacation or parental leave push Americans toward longer workweeks when compared to other developed economies.
Some put the blame at the door of “greedy” American industries, such as consulting and banking, which demand long hours and undivided loyalty from their employees so they can thrive in a competitive global economy. Whatever way you look at it America seems to be locked into a new kind of secular religion with work the centrepiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose.
In a new working paper, economist Edward E Leamer, of UCLA, studied data about working hours from the American Community Survey. It was evident that hours worked since 1980 increased nearly 10 per cent for Americans with bachelor’s and advanced degrees. Leamer believes this is because computing has shifted much of the economy to the Internet, such as software programming, marketing, advertising, consulting and publishing.
Leamer concludes that these new connected jobs lend themselves to long hours as they are less physically arduous. It’s easier to sit and type than to assemble engine parts and the Internet makes every hour of the day a potential working hour.
Most knowledge workers, whose laptops and smartphones are portable all-purpose media-making machines, can theoretically be as productive at 2pm in the main office as at 2am in Sydney or at midnight on the couch.
The innovations in personal computing and Internet-based communications have allowed workers the freedom to choose weekly work hours well in excess of the usual 40.
The Internet has also supercharged global competition and forced international firms to outwork rivals many thousands of miles away.
Economists found that the premium pay for longer workweeks has increased since 1980 for educated workers, but not for less educated workers. Their theory is that at the most competitive firms, ambitious workers putting in super-long hours are sending a clear message to the boss: Promote me!
When a recent Pew survey asked Americans about the keys to living a fulfilling life, less than a third named money, or marriage, or children, or even romance. The most popular response: “Having a job or career they enjoy.”
The web may be our garden of boundless leisure, but it is also a global workplace without limits.
Is this what life should be?
Gordon is the former president and chief executive of BMMI. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org