exploring possibilities for an engaging and productive workplace

Understanding Productivity

Saturday, November 27, 2010

In the short time I've been writing this blog, I've found it difficult to discuss topics from the perspective of employees and employers. On the employer side, it's difficult to find data or information that helps make a business case for things like happiness at work or work-life balance. How do these things lead to increased productivity?

In hopes of better understanding, I've decided to explore the idea of productivity. What does it mean, how is it measured, and who's keeping track?

Productivity Defined

Looking at Wikipedia and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics you'll see that productivity measures outputs of production in terms of per unit inputs. What I'm interested in is called "Labor Productivity." The definition makes sense when I imagine a factory. If I hire one employee I can expect to produce x units of product based on that worker's productivity. 

I have a difficult time translating this definition to an office environment. Many desired skills seem difficult or impossible to measure in terms of productivity. Skills and traits like: creativity, project management, innovation, teamwork, communication, quality, customer service, etc.


Measuring Productivity

I had hoped to better understand labor productivity in the office by learning how productivity is measured. These are some common measures I've found: 


  • Multi-Factor Productivity (MFP) measures the combined efforts of labor and capital based on either a value-added or gross-output. (OECD measurement manual)

  • Comparing outputs and inputs using measures such as GDP for output and labor hours for input
What fascinates me is how little information is available on how an individual firm measures productivity. Most productivity indicators are on a macro-economic scale. Additionally, the information on this topic isn't very accessible as it's buried in academic papers and journals. 

Who's Keeping Track

Where can budding entrepreneurs and managers find information that would help them measure productivity? Where can employees find information to measure their contribution? In some cases it seems like productivity might be confused with Return on Investment (ROI) where a business, department, or program will measure how long it takes for something to pay for itself through avoiding costs or generating revenues.

It appears that measuring productivity is the work of economists and large organizations like the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet I hear the words productivity and productive on a daily basis; these are everyday words.


Work Life Balance (part 3 of 3)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

In my last two postings, I discussed what work life balance means and why it sometimes sparks controversy. So far I've only covered the perspective of employee, now it's time to look at work life balance from the perspective of an employer.  How can work life balance contribute to productivity?

Researching this topic, I've seen comments about increased retention and decreased turnover, but it's been difficult to locate actual data, especially data generated by or confirmed by employers. So I thought I'd look at the career pages for some of Fortune's 100 Best Places to Work, to see what employers are advertising. Looking at these videos, most of them do not use the words "Work-Life Balance," but it seems to be a component of their employee programs. 

  • Adobe emphasizes "Work Hard, Play Hard".
  • Dreamwork's Animation talks about how much fun it is to work there.
  • Google promotes the value of employee input and the many perks like food, massage, etc.
But, what can the average company do? I think the companies above are perceived as having more money than most, thus enabling them to have extravagant programs. I haven't seen anything promoting work life balance in shift work or lower income jobs.

Obama's Council of Economic Adviser's wrote the report in March 2010: Work-Life Balance and the Economics of Flexibility. Here are some key findings that I found interesting:

  • Less skilled workers have less workplace flexibility.
  • 1/3 of firms site costs as a barrier to implementing workplace flexibility agreements
  • There is no common cost/benefit for these programs, they vary greatly by industry and size of workforce.
  • Wider adoption of policies and practices may have benefits to firms and the US economy as a whole.
  • There's a lack of data, which makes it difficult for employers to understand costs and benefits.
Businessweek's, The Increasing Call for Work-Life Balance says, "Employees who feel they have a better work-life balance tend to work 21% harder than those that don't."

Combining this information, what are low cost programs that encourage work life balance? How can employers get the rewards without breaking the bank? If you have ideas or examples, please post in the comments.


PS. While researching this post, I found this video to share. This isn't about productivity, but I appreciate Nigel Marshe's message: Work Life Balance is an Ongoing Battle.




Work Life Balance (part 2 of 3)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Work Life Balance- Fact or Fiction?

In Part 1 of this post, I defined Work Life Balance and shared my struggle in balancing work with everything else in my life. 

Part 2 will explore the controversy around Work Life Balance. Research reveals claims that Work Life Balance represents a myth, illusion, or even delusion. 

Later this week I will post Part 3, what does Work Life Balance have to do with productivity? How do employers benefit?


This video recaps what Work Life Balance is all about and promotes the idea, but did you notice the first line? There is no such thing as Work Life Balance... Even those promoting the idea take issue with the term. It seems the myth is all about semantics. Since this isn't a perspective I share, I thought it would be best to show you what others have to say.

Andrew May's post on RechargeLounge explains:  
The term ‘work life balance’ is a myth. And I actually believe that the term ‘work life balance’ itself sets many people up for failure because they either feel like their lives aren’t balanced or don’t have an understanding what balance is for them. And remember the set of scales that was so often used to depict work life balance, with work balancing on one side and life balancing tenuously on the other. Using these scales to depict work life balance again sets people up for failure because they illustrate that if work is going really well, then life tips over, and if your life is going swimmingly then work must suffer as a result.

From the Womens Media BlogMadeleine Holman writes:  
Let’s stop the balancing charade. It is an unworthy goal and unachievable to boot. We don’t want or need balance. What we need is a sense of autonomy and control over what we have promised to others and ourselves. What we need are some tools that will help us to decrease our fear that we aren’t doing the essential things we need to do to in the various areas of our lives.

Keith Hammonds wrote in Fast Company's article Balance is Bunk!:  
The truth is, balance is bunk. It is an unattainable pipe dream, a vain artifice that offers mostly rhetorical solutions to problems of logistics and economics. The quest for balance between work and life, as we've come to think of it, isn't just a losing proposition; it's a hurtful, destructive one.

In Mindfulness Matters, Arnie Kozack writes:
The term work-life implies a duality. Work is set against the rest of life. These are now in competition for our precious time and energy. If one wins, the other loses. However, life is a unity. Any separations we make are constructions, arbitrary boundaries drawn on the seamless fabric of life. 


Work Life Balance-- Fact or Fiction, what do you think? 

Work Life Balance (part 1 of 3)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

So, what is Work Life Balance? It's a phrase I've heard over and over again, one that often stirs up controversy, but I'll get to that in another post.  I define it as finding balance between work life and the rest of my life. Personal Sustainability is something else I hear regularly, and it's similar. I describe it as finding a balance that enables you to continue doing whatever it is you do (work, family, volunteering, etc.). Oddly, I'm not seeing a wikipedia entry for Personal Sustainability, so please comment with alternative definitions.

The Canadian Mental Health Association has a Work Life Balance Quiz you can take to see how balanced you are. I scored a 10, which is the top end of the scale for Barely Balanced. Interestingly, I fully expected to be labeled as On the Right Track! otherwise known as totally balanced. For context I'm currently working part-time, in graduate school, and married. Before starting grad school, I was married, working full-time, and often spent 60+hrs at the office-- doing a job that I loved supporting a mission I believed in. Maybe I'm not completely balanced, but I've certainly improved. By exposing some of my biases, I hope you can read this in context and shine a new perspective on your own Work Life Balance.

A couple of weeks ago, Nina from Secretariaint posted a great question, I'm curious to know if you have any thoughts on those who take too much joy in their work and become imbalanced in their personal lives?

My friend, who's a new mom, emailed me with a similar response, I’ve been enjoying your blog, especially as I re-evaluate my relationship with work. How do I chose between a baby I adore and a mission I believe in? (If this question resonates with you, check out the Work.Life.Balance blog)

First, these are questions that we all have to answer for ourselves and the answers will be different for everyone. These questions also hit home as they speak to a situation I've experienced myself, see above comment about working 60+hr work weeks and loving my job.

I was able to cut my hours down to a standard 40 by realizing that I do my best work when I take breaks, eat lunch, and go home. If I could do these things, I would show up at work feeling refreshed, so my time spent working was much more productive. This also helped me approach work related stress from a centered and rested place, ultimately contributing to a more positive attitude and healthy relationships with co-workers-- even during crunch times.

In hindsight, this all sounds easy, but it wasn't. At work, I was changing the world and I loved it! Everyday I was working to improve people's lives, reduce stress, promote wellness, lower emissions, reduce carbon footprints, and much more. Cutting down from 60 to 40 hours a week was a pain staking process filled with fear and doubt. Here's a snapshot of what was going through my head at the time: What if I let my co-workers down? If I don't do it who will? If it doesn't get done today, when will it? I can't say no, what if they fired me? What if I don't spend enough time with my husband? How the hell am I going to do all of this when school starts?  YIKES...

Ultimately I had a lot of help in changing my outlook on work. I met with a coach who helped me understand Work Life Balance and draw boundaries. She challenged my thinking by asking tough questions about my values, my actions, and where these things were poorly aligned. I sought out co-workers who took pride in their work, did a great job AND took their lunch breaks before going home on time. I read books on stress and found out that I was a really stressed out individual, which isn't the life I wanted for myself. So I'll be the first person to admit that Work Life Balance doesn't come easily to everyone.

What are your thoughts on Work Life Balance and Personal Sustainability? Share your stories, ideas, and questions in the comments.

This is part 1 of a series on this topic, so stay tuned for more...

Just an FYI, Refreshing Work has a new domain name, www.refreshingwork.com. The old URL, www.refreshingwork.blogspot.com will automatically forward to the new one. 

Enjoy! and thanks for reading

Take Lunch and Talk About Nothing

Monday, November 1, 2010

Thank you to Nina at Secretariaint for the inspiration behind this post.

Andrew Kjerulf has dubbed himself the "Chief Happiness Officer" and writes about happiness at work in  his books and his blog. He starts each week with a Monday Morning Tip and this week's tip is simple: invite a co-worker to lunch. He recommends going with someone you don't know very well and NOT talking about work. 

This goes hand in hand with a recent New York Times article investigating, "Why Sisterly Chats Make People Happier." The article suggests people with sisters are happier and explains the reason is they talk more. They don't talk about feelings, emotions, or anything in particular. They're simply happier because they talk more. This is all about quantity not quality.

In my post Joy at Work, I explained a little bit about happiness at work. It turns out that a happy workplace is a productive workplace and we just learned that talking paves a path toward happiness.  

Talking ---> Happiness ---> Productivity

Wow! Happiness and a productive workplace may seem more complicated than lunch or a conversation, but these are great places to start. So take your breaks, eat your lunch, and strike up a conversation while you're at it.


Me and my sister, having lunch and talking about nothing