The trend toward “work time” gobbling up “personal time” has reached a new high, or low, depending on your viewpoint. A Jive survey released this week finds that more than 91% of US, UK, and Australian workers reported working during non-business hours. 37% or US workers report working more than 10 hours per week during “personal time” as do 27% of UK workers and 18% of Australians.
Note that I am putting personal and work time in scare quotes because this study makes clear that the lifeslicing trend is rising, and the distinctions between personal and work are eroding.
I have written a great deal about the rise of the 3D workforce, one that is distributed, decentralized, and discontinuous. This lifeslicing is an element of the discontinuities of work today, much of which is beneficial to the worker and the business, like the ability to work nearly anywhere, thanks to ubiquitous connectivity and smart devices. The survey found that 62% of US workers polled use their personal smartphones or tablets for work, along with 51% of Australians, and 36% of UK workers. But another, more pernicious aspect of this discontinuous work is the expectation to carve large chunks out of your evening or weekend answering email, or completing some time-critical task. And as the survey shows, 63% polled said they would use an extra 10 hours to spend more time with family and friends.
The study also showed that vacation time is being lifesliced too, with 50% of US workers polled saying they devote time to work while on vacation, along with 51% of Aussies. The Brits are a bit more reluctant to do so, with only 34% concurring.
The work/life balance is becoming increasingly elusive, while monumental amounts of “work time” is wasted on pointless meetings and responding to unnecessary levels of email communication. One of the key elements for the future workplace is a relaxing of the strong ties of the current operating doctrine for business. The need for consensus and centralized decision-making eats up huge amounts of time and energy which could otherwise be directed toward actual work and delivering value to customers. Relaxing the strong bonds of direct reporting — as just the most obvious example — makes companies looser, faster, and less time-demanding.
In a business world where many are adding 10 or more hours on top of 40 or 50 baseline work hours, plus commuting, and the maintenance of a minimized personal and family life, how are workers supposed to increase their skills or knowledge about their field, discipline, or industry? Where is the necessary time to look out the window and dream a big dream, or to network with colleagues outside the bounded circle of your current projects?
Business leaders will have to come to grips with these central questions as they continue to seek new wellsprings of productivity, because the mining the slack in people’s time has reached the point of diminishing returns, and then some. The source of new productivity will have to be found in doing things differently, at a foundational level, and not just speeding up the assembly line and making the staff work double shifts.