Workin’ 9 to 5…Not


Dolly Parton was on to something when she wrote this song for the workingman in 1980.  Unfortunately, things may have gotten worse since then.  Thanks to the current recession, globalization and the Internet, those employees lucky enough to have jobs are working harder and longer hours. Soon this will become problematic for both the workers and their employers.  I touched upon this topic in an earlier blog post but now a recent article in The Economist magazine sheds more light on this issue and discusses what some companies are doing to adjust:

The Corporate Leadership Council, an American consultancy, surveyed employees in 1,100 companies. The findings tell a grim story.  The average amount of work expected from each employee has increased by over 30% since the beginning of the recession. As well, the number of respondents who are willing to put in “discretionary” (read: extra) effort has fallen by 50% since 2007.  Those employees claiming to be “disengaged” from their jobs has risen from 10% to 20%.

Another consultancy, The Hay Group, found similar results in a survey of 1,000 British workers.  Over 65% of respondents said they are performing unpaid overtime. Worryingly, 63% of employees indicated that their employers do not recognize their extra efforts while 57% contend they are treated like dispensable commodities.

In a world of salary caps, deferred bonuses and shrinking benefits, many people are working more for less money.  So far, firms have gotten away with this approach outside of some staff grumbling.  Most employees have proven to be quite resilient and willing to suck things up to keep their jobs.

However, if these surveys accurately reflect what is really transpiring there are significant implications for companies looking to manage costs, increase productivity, maximize human capital and reignite their growth prospects.  When the economy does turn around, firms will increasingly pay the price for their shortsightedness.  Over-worked and over-stressed workers are less productive, take more sick days and exit firms at higher rates.  The Hay Study found that 59% of their respondents where either actively looking for another job or are considering leaving.  And very often, it is the top performers who choose to vote with their feet. Harried staff members are less likely to be innovative, strategic and good team players, denying their employers the very skills that are required to be competitive in the future. 

In the longer run, employers with a bad reputation may face labour and skills shortages as the overall workforce ages and shrinks.  Additionally, workers who see themselves as being exploited are more likely to consider striking or joining unions.  What can organizations do to avoid the stampede to the door and position themselves for growth?

Emphasize non-financial rewards

Common sense suggests that publicly recognizing employee successes, increasing job flexibility, truly delivering on empowerment schemes and promoting basic human kindness can go a long way to improving the burdens of work, morale and loyalty.  Providing more formal and informal training is another way of rewarding employees plus it has the added benefit of (hopefully) improving corporate performance.

Coddle top and high potential performers

To keep high performers happy, give them more interesting work and exposure to senior leaders.  For example, P&G lets its strongest performers loose on their toughest problems.  HP allows its top performers to attend and participate in high-level strategy meetings.

Cull the malcontents

Judicious pruning of under-performers or those permanently jaded by the circumstances can go a long way to free up more compensation and senior roles for your high performers as well as help mitigate existing morale problems.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.

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