Thursday, June 10, 2010

Managing work and time

I spend a lot of time these days talking to IT companies about ways of supercharging employee referral programs and improving the participation levels of their employees.

One common refrain I repeatedly hear is that their employees are already working long hours and thus don't have the bandwidth to think of the right candidates to refer.

While we, at, have build systems to help improve employee referrals without taxing the employees (by way of brainwork or time), I cannot but help wonder how an entire population can be continuously overworked.

Obviously, working longer hours does not necessarily mean higher productivity. And some of the snide comments from managers and above clearly illustrates the fact that there is not any significantly higher productivity. So I think it is time for all of us - as individuals as well as companies - to take a look at how we work.

A good debate on this would be illuminating and to start off, I will put forth some of my observations.

1. Many of the employees are bachelors, in the age group of 23 - 27, who are not yet married, and live in bachelor pads. They usually don't have girlfriends/boyfriends, or a interesting life outside of office. No one ever told them to have fun, only to get a good job and work hard.

2. The next category of employees are the recently married ones who are torn between wanting to go home to their spouses early and continuing their well-trained long standing behaviour of staying late. Compounding their dilemma is the fact that the younger group continues to stay longer hours forcing them to leave while (nearly) everyone else is working.

3. The managers also look askance at people leaving early (on time, actually) with conscious or sub-conscious repercussions at appraisals time. The managers themselves cannot leave early for fear that once they leave, the rest would just up-and-leave resulting in productivity loss. So they remain back to lead by example, which is what makes the bachelors stay late in the first place!

With India churning out more and more of the younger generation, the demographics of this crowd is not going to change anytime soon. And today, we have enough data to clearly show that neither productivity nor quality of work (or of life in general for that matter) is improving because of working longer hours.

I have always felt that if people had a life outside (a love life, a hobby, active sports, some other time sink), they would plan their work hours better and this will automatically correct the situation. However, culturally all these non-work activities are anathema to us and that has been ingrained into us from a very early age. So to change the behaviour of an entire generation is proabably not going to be feasible.

Instead, what if companies demanded that their employees should not stay beyond 8 hrs and started to penalize their employees for either not completing their work or for staying longer hours. Would this not force people to plan their work day better leading to higher productivity and a better life?

What do you think?