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If You're Always Working, You're Never Working Well 135

An anonymous reader writes: Hard work is almost an axiom in the U.S. — office culture continually rewards people who are at their desks early and stay late, regardless of actual performance. Over the past decade, it's encroached even further into workers' private lives with the advent of smartphones. An article at the Harvard Business Review takes issue with the idea that more work is always better: "When we accept this new and permanent ambient workload — checking business news in bed or responding to coworkers' emails during breakfast — we may believe that we are dedicated, tireless workers. But, actually, we're mostly just getting the small, easy things done. Being busy does not equate to being effective. ... And let's not forget about ambient play, which often distracts us from accomplishing our most important tasks. Facebook and Twitter report that their sites are most active during office hours. After all, the employee who's required to respond to her boss on Sunday morning will think nothing of responding to friends on Wednesday afternoon. And research shows (PDF) that these digital derailments are costly: it's not only the minutes lost responding to a tweet but also the time and energy required to 'reenter' the original task." How do we shift business culture to reward effective work more than the appearance of work?
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If You're Always Working, You're Never Working Well

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  • No thought required (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Thiarna ( 111890 ) on Saturday August 02, 2014 @10:06AM (#47588555)

    I find in most business cultures I've had contact with that actually spending time to think about a problem is actively discouraged. Problems get bounced from one person to the next, and the actual work performed by any one person on something is so limited that often no-one understands the full problem. The always connected culture described in the article is part of the problem, but more fundamentally it is that there is such the constant stream of email with so little thought put into it

  • by Quakeulf ( 2650167 ) on Saturday August 02, 2014 @10:10AM (#47588567)
    The need has come to educate yourselves: []
  • by justaguy516 ( 712036 ) on Saturday August 02, 2014 @10:23AM (#47588615)

    As it happens, Americans are too nice about their own time. If a meeting is more than 5 minutes overdue Scandinavians (and Germans) will brusquely get up and leave. Americans sit around and chew the fat waiting for somebody else to make the move.

  • Re:Bizarro world? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Saturday August 02, 2014 @10:57AM (#47588741)
    Australians are generally lazy but get a reputation for being hard workers overseas due to the way we deal with it. The idea is to get into the work as quickly as possibly so we can get it done and bugger off home early :)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 02, 2014 @10:58AM (#47588747)

    You forgot to mention that no one takes meeting minutes or notes. Thus any decisions made are lost two steps out the door. Which in turn requires future follow up meetings to re-decide/debate the same issues. I've seen heated discussions over issues that were already resolved in a prior meeting.

  • by Shinobi ( 19308 ) on Saturday August 02, 2014 @10:58AM (#47588751)

    That's because here in Sweden at least, we learned from childhood to work in groups, including presentations etc, though that has changed a lot now that we've adopted more international methods. Aka, downgraded our education...

    For example, when I was a kid, we had student councils in school, from age 10, where each class has 1 or 2 representatives, who then report to the rest of the class at the weekly class meetings etc. It was also a good way to teach students about democracy.

    As for the difference between US and nordic culture in regards to meetings, time keeping etc, I do notice that a lot in my freelancing. US clients are more likely to call at completely idiotic times(like calling at 19:00 their local time, meaning it's middle of the night/really early morning for me), and as you say, less coordinated with materials at meetings etc.

  • by CptJeanLuc ( 1889586 ) on Saturday August 02, 2014 @02:33PM (#47589771)

    From working from Europe in a global organization a few years ago, it was interesting to see how American colleagues always seem to be projecting the importance of their work and their persona, with an always-on mindset. And it was interesting how emails got answered in the late evening US time zones, with replies that were clearly in the style of "I want you to know that I read your email and am working in the evening", but with no real effort behind the response. And with silly emails like "going away with family on vacation for two days, so I will be reading email less frequently" - dude, why are you checking your emails on a vacation.

    Furthermore, US colleagues often seemed obsessed about strengthen their own work position, paranoid about any initiative which may reduce their importance, and generally working relations and politics to make themselves as hard-to-fire as possible. Some people clearly playing their own agenda not really caring about what is right for the company. And creating as little transparency as possible about information they own, making it hard to objectively assess their performance, or replace them with someone else. The kind of person who will do what they are asked, and little else.

    In Scandinavia, my experience is we tend to focus on getting sh%# done, and nobody really cares when you do it. In most work environments people are not expected to be always-on, and we embrace the idea that it is good for people to be able to take some weeks vacation once in a while. Plus with public welfare systems - yes, the dreaded "socialism" - you don't have to be overly paranoid about the consequences of losing your job.

    One of the most effective tools I have had in terms of time management, is that whenever someone has asked me something with a questionable or unreasonable timeline, I have questioned the time frame and discussed what are actual requirements - and usually there is no problem shifting the timeline to something reasonable. Just because someone asks, that does not mean you have to say yes. There is nothing worse than under-delivering. It is better both for yourself, and for whomever is asking, to push back and find something that works - and then deliver a quality end product. Or some times reducing the scope - someone asks for a big presentation, which you know they may end up changing everything - and you agree on instead making a rough draft and storyline. So you just saved yourself a ton of work, and all it took was 2 minutes of intelligent discussion.

    As for changing the culture, I'd say just take a position regarding how and when you plan to work, and let your colleague and peers know. Or at least discuss what is the expectation in terms of work commitments. So they will not be expecting an always-on mindset. In the end, if you keep delivering your stuff, I would think that is what matters.

Variables don't; constants aren't.