What exactly is productivity?

According this this article in the SMH this morning, the federal government are advocating changes to the award conditions of federal public servants, in an attempt to make them work longer hours, in the name of “productivity”.

Yet this proposal seems to run counter to an article in The Conversation, which identified a number of countries including Sweden and France who are legislating to reduce working hours because they realise it is beneficial to both workers and the nation

Unlike the Abbott government approach of “clock punching” – evidently a relic of the 1950’s style of “command and Control”management style of which the Coalition seems so fond, a number of studies show that longer work hours tends to make us less productive, leads to poorer health outcomes and increases mortality rates.

In this 21st Century we seem to be working longer and harder than ever before, and the advent of telephone and mobile technologies is enabling more of our working life to intrude into our personal time, and for what benefit?  Or perhaps more importantly, for whose benefit?  Is it we who are gaining from the merging to work and private space, or is the balance heavily favouring the employers?

Read the e-mail or Facebook memes that circulate daily and note how we are bombarded with too many mixed messages, you know the kind I mean – “The 10 things effective people do.” or the obligatory “Take the time to relax and find yourself”.

On one hand we are told we need to work longer and harder because that is the path to success.  We are flooded with images of US television where lawyers, police, medicos and ordinary people never seem to go home.  At all hours of the day or night they may be found in their office getting things done, meeting that deadline, taking calls from the boss, walking out on dinner parties and kids sporting events because “the boss called”.  Amusingly, both they and their partners simply take it in their stride, as though the intrusion is common and the price of obtaining wealth or freedom.

Yes on the other hand we are flooded with messages to “love what you do”, or “spend more quality time with family and friends”, “work to live” or messages that stress we need to find a “work/life balance”.

The relentless push for productivity only seems to work in one direction and has assumed almost cult status.  We’re all told we need to have a strong “work ethic” to succeed, but reading between the lines this effectively means, we will be paid to work 38 or 40 hours per week, but outside those hours the expectation is that we will make ourselves fully accessible to our employer at any time, to perform additional work as required by them for no additional recompense.  And we do it because the messages tell us we need to, in order to be successful.

The stupidity of doing this is manifold because it empowers the employer further, in an already imbalanced relationship and it encourages them to go even further with their demands on our time.  The very thought that productivity is correlative to physical hours worked does not bear up under scrutiny, and is certainly not supported in many studies. 

In many respects, shorter , more intense work days with longer periods to rest, recuperate and recharge seem to be significantly more efficient, but alas, that doesn’t hold with the Conservative mindset and their need to assert control.

The balance needs to shift back toward the more rationalist approach being adopted by the Europeans.  Holding the US model up as a paradigm may have gained us a little in monetary terms but we have also sacrificed must more of our precious time and our relationships with family and into the wider community.

As individuals we are powerless against the weight and might of the corporations, but together we are immensely powerful, and the truth is  – they know it, which is why they keep attacking unions and collectivism. 

Like a pack of wolves, the employers know they can’t take-on the numbers of the herd, so they harry the herd, nipping and niggling, all in an effort to dislodge and isolate individuals, so they can pick them off one-by-one.  That is exactly what has happened to our workplaces, we have allowed ourselves to become isolated – easy pickings for the scavengers, instead of standing firm for the benefit of all.

Rather than bowing ad allowing the government to define our terms, it is us who need to force a stop, a refusal, an effort of non-compliance, until we asked the question and answered it to everyone’s satisfaction.  What exactly is “productivity”?  Are we measuring it correctly and and how can we best to achieve it?  Considering our intelligence, our capacity to innovate and the technology at our disposal, surely we can devise a better solution than the simplistic approach of making people work longer hours?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s