Monday, November 2, 2009

Productivity Lows? Snooze Those Woes

Business strategies

SleepInPark How important is R&R (rest and relaxation) when considering work productivity?  In a time when the market demands us to be highly productive AND efficient, can we afford to rest?

In a recent article in Harvard Business Review titled Making Time Off Predictable – And Required, authors Leslie A. Perlow and Jessica L. Porter explained how experiments conducted at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) show that giving time off, even in tough economic times, produces predictable results that meet the highest business demands placed even on consultants!

If you’re unfamiliar with my history in consulting, let me explain.  I’ve spent six of my 13 professional years in consulting.  I’ve worked both under a subcontract and a full time employee model. In both cases utilization (explained below) is king.  Nothing that I know of has as high a spoilage potential than consulting service hours.  Every minute spent that’s not billed is a minute lost that you can’t get back, discount to sell at another date, or trade for another good at a future date.  In fact, consulting may have been the impetus for the axiom “time is money.”

So, the modus operandi at most consulting firms is to continuously increase productivity and efficiency, measured in total number of hours billed as a percentage of total number of available hours in a given year.  This is what’s referred to as utilization.  Many firms strive for a 75 to 85% utilization out of 2080 annual possible billable hours (or 1920 hours if you subtract holidays and vacation pay).

Given the effort to increase utilization, it seems counter-intuitive to allow employees to take regular vacations, especially at the highest demand periods on a project, initiative, or program as the authors of the HBR article suggest.  However, Perlow and Porter report that employees tend to return to work energized, with a new sense of purpose, resulting in more predictable billing schedule.  In turn, this higher consistency leads to less unpredictable time missed at the remaining potentially billable hours, which produces higher utilization numbers.

ShockTheir results may shock you.  I understand, but I believe that when we personalize this story and look at our own performance we begin to understand the results better.  Think about the last time you took time off from work.  AFTER that period away from the office, during which time you were completely disconnected from the office, most likely you returned with new ideas, hopes, wishes and energy to push through many of the barriers that you may have given into BEFORE the time off.  You may have picked up a new hobby when away from the office.  The lessons you learned there may lead you to think differently at work, resulting in better problem-solving skills.

In fact, this is an idea that’s preached by many.  Dr. Covey of the Franklin-Covey and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Amazon link) fame, articulated this concept in the definition of the 7th habit: Sharpen the Saw!  If you’re unfamiliar with Covey’s research, just know that the 7th habit is taking time off from work in order to recharge.  The time off requires complete disconnect from work, physically and mentally.  The recommended activities usually include reading a book, listening to music or just resting.

The key element in all cases is to fully disconnect from the office. 

That’s all well and good, but how would you convince the powers that be about making this drastic of a change at your work?  We’ll go over that topic next Monday.

What Do You Think?

Feel free to comment below if you agree and, especially, if you disagree with this post.