Author Topic: The joy of absence - How some companies fight the curse of presenteeism  (Read 1397 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline daftandbarmy

  • Army.ca Legend
  • *****
  • 254,625
  • Rate Post
  • Posts: 14,101
  • The Older I Get, The Better I Was
The joy of absence

How some companies fight the curse of presenteeism

RONALD REAGAN famously quipped that “it’s true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?” Beyond a certain level, extra effort seems to be self-defeating. Studies suggest that, after around 50 hours a week, employee productivity declines sharply.

But that doesn’t stop some managers from demanding that workers stay chained to their desk for long periods. At the blood-testing firm Theranos, Sunny Balwani, boyfriend of the founder, Elizabeth Holmes, had an obsession with employee hours, and would tour the engineering department at 7.30pm to check people were at their desks. All those hours were wasted when the company eventually collapsed (prosecutors have charged Ms Holmes with fraud).

Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce group, recently praised the 996 model, where employees work from 9am to 9pm, six days a week, as a “great opportunity”. To be fair, Mr Ma said employers should not mandate such hours. Still presenteeism is the curse of the modern office worker.

There will be days when you do not have much to do; perhaps because you are waiting for someone else in a different department, or a different company, to respond to a request. As the clock ticks past 5pm, there may be no purpose in staying at your desk. But you can see your boss hard at work and, more important, they can see you. So you make an effort to look busy.

Some of this may be a self-perpetuating cycle. If bosses do not like to go home before their underlings, and underlings fear leaving before their bosses, everyone is trapped. Staff may feel that they will not get a pay rise, or a promotion, if they are not seen to be putting in maximum effort. This is easily confused with long hours. Managers, who are often no good at judging employees’ performance, use time in the office as a proxy.

The consequence is often wasted effort. To adjust the old joke about the Soviet Union: “We pretend to work and managers pretend to believe us.” Rather than work hard, you toil to make bosses think that you are. Leaving a jacket on your office chair, walking around purposefully with a clipboard, and sending out emails at odd hours are three of the best known tricks. After a while this can result in collective self-delusion that it is actual work.

But presenteeism has more serious consequences. It is perhaps most prevalent in Japan, where people attend the office even when they are in discomfort. In doing so, they are neither doing themselves, or their employers, any favours.

As well as reduced productivity, this can mean greater medical expenses for the employer. According to a study in the Journal of Occupation and Environmental Medicine, these costs can be six times higher for employers than the costs of absenteeism among workers. To take one example, research published in the British Medical Journal found that Japanese employees with lower back pain were three times more likely to turn up for work than in Britain. As a result, those workers were more likely to experience greater pain and to suffer from depression. What could be more depressing than being in pain, and feeling trapped at work?

None of this is to say that employers are not entitled to expect workers to be in the office for a decent proportion of time. Inevitably there will be a need for some (preferably short) meetings. Dealing with colleagues face-to-face creates a feeling of camaraderie, allows for a useful exchange of ideas and enables workers to have a better sense of their mutual needs.

In the grand sweep of humanity, presenteeism is a recent phenomenon. Before the industrial era, most people worked in their own farm or workshop and were paid for the amount they produced. Factories emerged because new machines were much more efficient than cottage-industry methods, and only a large employer with capital could afford them. Suddenly, workers were paid not for their output but for their time, and were required to clock in and out. But modern machinery like smartphones and laptops is portable. It can be used as easily at home as in the office.

Turning an office into a prison, with inmates allowed home for the evenings, does nothing for creativity that is increasingly demanded of office workers as routine tasks are automated. To be productive you need presence of mind, not being present in the flesh.

https://www.economist.com/business/2019/05/12/the-joy-of-absence
"The most important qualification of a soldier is fortitude under fatigue and privation. Courage is only second; hardship, poverty and want are the best school for a soldier." Napoleon

Offline FJAG

  • Army.ca Veteran
  • *****
  • 207,435
  • Rate Post
  • Posts: 2,479
  • Ex Gladio Justicia
    • Google Sites Wolf Riedel
Many years ago I was involved for quite a while in legal issues concerning a massive and complex international chemical industry construction project which had gone significantly out of whack.

The project was a cost plus project and one of the issues was that the project had fallen far behind and as a result the contractor had initiated significant ramp-ups in overtime so that teams went from working 5/8s to 6/10s and even 6/12s (days per week/hours per day)

That got us looking at worker efficiencies on prolonged overtime work which all the studies agreed went to hell in a hand basket. In effect the owners were paying premium overtime rates for work that was progressively deteriorating at a predictable rate.

Here's a more recent study then the ones we looked at back then but the loss of productivity curves are pretty much the same.

http://www.weblem.org/upload/OT1%20%20How%20to%20Estimate%20the%20Impacts%20of%20Overtime%20on%20Labor%20Productivity.pdf

 :cheers:
Illegitimi non carborundum
Semper debeatis percutis ictu primo
Access my "Allies" and "Mark Winters, CID" book series at:
https://sites.google.com/view/wolfriedel
Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WolfRiedelAuthor/

Offline Eaglelord17

  • Full Member
  • *****
  • 16,725
  • Rate Post
  • Posts: 307
I think the author is looking at the early industrial era with rose tinted glasses. Yeah you punched in and out, but for the first while they had to FIGHT to get a 16 hour work day because they would literally spend their lives working. You didn't like it? You were fired and someone else thrown in the grinder.

Recently I will agree though the balance that existed separating your work life and home life, from roughly the 1950s to present has been broken by technology at home.

Offline mariomike

  • Directing Staff
  • Army.ca Fixture
  • *
  • 517,505
  • Rate Post
  • Posts: 9,679
    • The job.
Nothing new about the 8-hour shift,
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eight-hour_day
"On 5 January 1914, the Ford Motor Company took the radical step of doubling pay to $5 a day and cut shifts from nine hours to eight, moves that were not popular with rival companies, although seeing the increase in Ford's productivity, and a significant increase in profit margin (from $30 million to $60 million in two years), most soon followed suit."

Depends on the job. City of Toronto police work 10-hour shifts ( 8 hours at night ), paramedics 12 hours and firefighters 24 hours.

Recently I will agree though the balance that existed separating your work life and home life, from roughly the 1950s to present has been broken by technology at home.

My employer kept those disturbances to a minimum. If they telephoned your home to ask about a call, it cost them 4-hours OT, at time-and-a-half.
« Last Edit: May 14, 2019, 08:10:19 by mariomike »

Offline a78jumper

  • Full Member
  • *****
  • 2,065
  • Rate Post
  • Posts: 306
I still remember long in the tooth service members that refused to take annual leave, preferring to save it up for their terminal leave period. Most of them were not effective either. I had one MWO retire with almost 300 days of accumulated leave, most of it piled up at mush lower rates of pay. I remember forcing him to take a short vacation and even then he would not use annual. Short it was.

Offline Tcm621

  • Army.ca Subscriber
  • Sr. Member
  • *
  • 13,455
  • Rate Post
  • Posts: 769
I still remember long in the tooth service members that refused to take annual leave, preferring to save it up for their terminal leave period. Most of them were not effective either. I had one MWO retire with almost 300 days of accumulated leave, most of it piled up at mush lower rates of pay. I remember forcing him to take a short vacation and even then he would not use annual. Short it was.

Cal Ripkin Jr. was famous for never missing a game but I have heard more than one baseball analyst wonder how much better he might have been if he took the odd game off to rest nagging injuries.

Offline Loachman

  • Former Army Pilot in Drag
  • Directing Staff
  • Army.ca Fixture
  • *
  • 218,902
  • Rate Post
  • Posts: 7,488
I still remember long in the tooth service members that refused to take annual leave, preferring to save it up for their terminal leave period. Most of them were not effective either. I had one MWO retire with almost 300 days of accumulated leave, most of it piled up at mush lower rates of pay. I remember forcing him to take a short vacation and even then he would not use annual. Short it was.

Many years ago, there was a Brigadier-General who did that, which also prevented anybody from being promoted and posted into his position for a couple of years. He's the reason why nobody can accumulate leave anymore.

Offline mariomike

  • Directing Staff
  • Army.ca Fixture
  • *
  • 517,505
  • Rate Post
  • Posts: 9,679
    • The job.
Depends on your collective agreement, if you have one.

Nine months of sick pay gratuity was the most you could bank for retirement.

Once that was maxed-out, time to start burning it off.

« Last Edit: June 10, 2019, 20:41:58 by mariomike »

Offline JesseWZ

  • Directing Staff
  • Sr. Member
  • *
  • 44,695
  • Rate Post
  • Posts: 566
My office recently moved to 10 hour work days, 4 days a week. Staffing is arranged so we're always manned during the "business day" (7-5, M-F). Speaking only for myself, what a positive difference it made.

Morale is up, I feel more productive, and I can knock out a trip to Comox and back within the work day now as opposed to having to go over the days-end or leave veeeerrry early. The extra hours tacked on sometimes 2-3 times a week were killing my family support of the job, and this change really helped with that.

I now also enjoy a 3 day weekend, every weekend, which is respected by unit members. Unless I'm on call and something serious happens, my Mondays off come with all the perks of a Sunday, including not having to answer phone calls or emails, and not being told to "come in" to deal with something. I was a bit worried the Mondays off wouldn't be "off" but so far (4 months in) they've been respected.

I will be seen and not heard... I will be seen and not heard... I will be seen and not heard...

Offline mariomike

  • Directing Staff
  • Army.ca Fixture
  • *
  • 517,505
  • Rate Post
  • Posts: 9,679
    • The job.
My office recently moved to 10 hour work days, 4 days a week.

Our crew worked a 3-week repeating cycle. It was not subject to change.

MTWTF 0700-1900
MT       0700-1900
WTF     0700-1900

Our police work,

10-hour day
10-hour evening
8-hour night

Our firefighters work,

24-hour tours
« Last Edit: June 11, 2019, 16:24:13 by mariomike »