Entries from June 2008 ↓

One step backwards with clueless compensation demand

I talk to an increasing number of people who wake up in the morning and instantly grab their Blackberry from the bedside table to check work email. Dealing with work on your smartphone is a huge example of the end of work-life balance, but it’s not the only one. Conference calls with Asia at 2 a.m., getting reports done while on vacation, following work-related developments online over the weekend…it’s all typical for knowledge workers. Just as the news cycle has gone 24 hours, so has the work cycle.

It is because nobody outside of the assembly line works from 9 to 5 that the use of at-work networks for non-work-related activities should not only be tolerated by encouraged. A recent study — not conducted by an organization with a financial interest in helping companies bloock access — there are perfectly legitimate reasons for employees to engage in these non-work or semi-work-related activities while at the office and, further, that blocking could backfire and result in lost productivity.

(The study was published in the June issue of the CyberPsychology and Behaviour Journal.)

Leave it to some workers to want to return to the days of the clear line between work and leisure. CNN is reporting that employees are making noise about being compensated for the time they spend on their Blackberries while away from the office. Producers and reporters for ABC News have evidently reached an agreement with management to pay them for their smartphone activities. Lawyers are warning companies that they can expect more such demands.

Talk about shooting themselves in their collective feet. If a company pays you for the time you spend doing work away from the office, then they have every right to expect you will devote every minute in the office to work. And that’s just denial of the 24-hour work cycle that can only lead to complications of multiple stripes. From compensation practices to the fine line between online activities with and without work dimensions (for instance, representing your company well while engaging in primarily non-work networking), things could get very ugly in a hurry. It seems companies aren’t the only ones that need to wake up to the realities of the networked world. Add greedy, clueless employees (and, in some cases, the unions that represent them) to those ranks, too.

The productivity paradox

It’s gotten hard to pay attention to technology news without hearing a report from Websense or Challenger, Gray & Christmas or some consultancy tallying up the lost productivity companies suffer as employees spend time on Facebook and other non-work-related websites. The numbers sometimes reach into the billions of dollars. How do companies survive?

The answer of course, is that the studies are a load of crap. Not taken into account is the fact that a lot of the time spent on these sites does have a work-related dimension to it. Also not taken into account is the fact that workers put extra time to make up for the time spent online, regardless of whether that time is spent at the office or at home. And let’s not forget the amount of time the average knowledge worker spends doing work at home anyway. (Raise your hand if the first thing you do when you wake up is reach for your Blackberry to check your work email.)

The truth of this is borne out by news last week that worker productivity has increased more quickly in the first quarter of 2008 than previously reported. I read this is the June 5 edition of USA Today that was delivered to my hotel room:

The Labor Department reported Wednesday that productivity rose at an annual rate of 2.6% in the January-March period, faster than the government’s initial estimate of 2.2% a month ago.

This is consistent with other Labor Department reports, not to mention one from the United Nations, that shows generally increasing productivity with the U.S. leading the pack.

How can that reconcile with the billions of dollars in lost productivity attributable to Facebook? The answer is simple: It can’t.