Goodness knows, there is nothing better for the economy that productive workers. After all, an economy grows through having people working, and by having their hours at work be efficient. That can come through having them use the right equipment, or just by having them use their time wisely. What it cannot come from is from their getting stressed out and putting in pointless hours, or by using automated programs to make it look like they are sending emails in the wee hours of the morning. Unfortunately a new study out of Britain suggests that those behaviours are prevalent in the modern workplace.
The study, by business intelligence service provider xoomworks is excerpted in this article from HR Magazine U.K. and focuses on something they call ‘competitive overtime’. Competitive overtime, as far as I can make out, is overtime that does nothing much more than signal to the boss that workers are committed, really committed, and goodness knows more committed than the guy in the next cubicle. Of the 1,000 office workers surveyed by xoomworks, one third (31%) said they sent emails outside of work hours just to signal to others that they were working. A small but strategic 4 percent of workers go as far as using email schedulers to send those emails early in the morning. A whopping 54 percent of workers admitted to staying later than their colleagues just to impress their superiors.
Not surprisingly, the whole competitive overtime thing begets a vicious cycle of stress. Seeing their colleagues come in to work while they are ill or work through lunch everyday makes employees anxious themselves, and no doubt makes them think about upping their game. That might all be fine if it did lead to more productive companies, but creating stress and anxiety seems just as likely to lead to conflict and burnout without really making much difference to the bottom line.
Of course, it is easy to see what is powering the competitive behavior. The unemployment rate in Britain was 5.4 percent as of February, which although better than the 8 percent plus that was the norm a few years ago is still relatively high. In addition, the overall unemployment rate tells you little about the level of job insecurity and fear of layoffs that workers live with daily. Lloyd’s Banking Group Plc, Britain’s largest mortgage lender, last week announced that it will eliminate 625 jobs and close 21 branches as part of an ongoing plan to pare about 2,000 role by 2017. Even for those who do not work for that particular company, the writing is on the wall, or at least they fear that it might be. And so staying in for lunch seems like a good idea.
Employees in the U.S. and Canada were not included in xoomworks survey, but it is not difficult to extend the findings to North America. The culture of layoffs is still rife, and may well be for years to come. Given that reality, it may make sense for workers to figure out the theatrics of making it seem like they are working hard, or indeed to work hard to by just showing up as much as they can. How much better though if employers could just harness their willingness to be productive and help them do so in ways that actually are.