At work but not working

According to the CEBR (Centre for Ecoomics and Business Research) UK businesses don’t know how to maximise their human capital despite the vast majority being ‘concerned’ or more about their people productivity – indeed, a survey they conducted found that:

    • Some two thirds have not looked at ways to boost employee well-being and so motivation levels
    • Some 60% have not looked at improving business processes and decision-making
    • Some 70% have not invested in technology to automate repetitive tasks


But, important as such initiatives are, a bigger source of ‘human capital improvement’ they should all address is the huge waste of employee time when at work – plenty of studies show that, most of the time, people are busy at work but ‘are they productive during that time?’

At present, most managers still equate long hours at work with dedication, commitment and loyalty

This is why, in the early days of Microsoft, Bill Gates memorised employee license plates: “I knew everyone’s licence plates so I could look out in the parking lot and see when people came in, and when they left”

But this attitude is ineffective nowadays, as Gates soon realised – what matters is results, not hours worked

This particularly applies to brainworkers as they steadily replace brawnworkers in workplaces – the former are people who have to use their brains more than their hands to complete their work – people whose outputs and results are less easily countable and often subjectively measured

Brainworkers can look extremely busy when they’re actually unproductive

Indeed, one recent study claims most employees only work about three hours a day – they fill the rest of the time following Parkinson’s Law and surfing, chatting or complaining about being overloaded whilst accomplishing very little – they’re at work but not working

Hence, the increasing calls for most to work only six hours a day or four days a week – or flexitime working, often from home – all  in the expectation of producing much the same if not more and better output

The problem with this is most managers would feel a loss of control over their charges – they find hours input are easily countable and so controllable,  whilst results are less so – hence many managers stick with their old ‘command and control’ ways and manage by time inputs mainly

Fortunately, more enlightened managers recognise their need to move with the times – actions they are taking include:

  • Hiring people they can trust – then trusting them – and this is usually reciprocated
  • Setting expectations and targets for each of the people in their charge – expectations of each team member include not only deliverables on time and of acceptable quality but also coming up with new improvement ideas and helping each other
  • Letting their people decide when they work, where – they know they will be judged on what they get done so they plan accordingly but this allows them to manage their work/ life balance requirements better – an important motivation factor nowadays
  • Not endlessly contacting individuals when not in the office, unless absolutely essential – most problems/ thoughts can wait until tomorrow or later


Better results inevitably follow – and all started by the manager managing differently


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