Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

Community News Network

January 23, 2014

Why 'live to work' mindset wins out in US

Overwork is not good for productivity. If you're doing physical labor, you get tired. If you're doing customer service, you get cranky. If you're sitting at a desk doing so-called knowledge work, you get stale and unimaginative. Moreover, these deficits are cumulative; the longer you work crazy hours, the more of a strain this puts on your productivity.

So why, over the past few decades, have knowledge workers come to work such long hours? A recent column by James Surowiecki explores the issue, and he hits a lot of good points. But I want to highlight one possibility that he doesn't mention: As work has gotten more specialized, the penalty for handing off work to multiple people has risen.

When people complain about work-family balance, they frequently complain that two people who each work 30 hours a week are paid much less than half as much as one person working 60 hours a week. Surowiecki notes that it's more expensive to hire two people (benefits, desks, etc.). But that's not the only cost. In specialized jobs, two people who are each working 30 hours a week may actually be much less productive than one working 60 — even if working 60 hours makes each of those hours much less productive than they could be.

The problem is that when work is specialized, each worker has individual knowledge about the job that has to be passed off to anyone else working on that job. If you split the job, you increase the amount of time that is spent telling the other person what you know . . . and increase the risk that something will be missed because one person knew one thing and the other knew something else, and those two pieces of information never met in the same head.

More workers also means more time managing those workers. Ever been at a firm or department that went from five people to 35? How much more of your time got sucked up in meetings? As work teams grow, you start to need elaborate hierarchies of communication and control that absorb lots of time and require extra people whose jobs are just managing all the others.

And as the pace of communications has accelerated, it has paradoxically gotten more difficult to do without people. If you're an American working with folks in Europe, you quickly learn to write off the summer, because it's impossible to get anything done when everyone takes multiweek vacations. By the time one person gets back, the other person is off. This is maddening if you're working on anything time-sensitive.

This is not to say that the overcrowding of the American schedule is the right approach. I have the American tendency to fill every waking hour with work, as much as someone is willing to give me. After seven years of blogging professionally, I've come to realize that I have to force myself to take vacations — real ones, where the phone is off and I don't promise to work on just a couple of little tidbits, such as maybe a reported feature. Every time I come back from vacation, I dive back into work with new ideas and a lot more energy, and I think, "Why don't I do this more often?" And still, every year, I lose most of my vacation days.

Maybe U.S. employers should be more like the Economist, which, when I worked there, required you to take all your vacation — not "use it or lose it," just "use it." But you can see why they aren't, when most of the economic and cultural pressures run the other way.

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • Victimized by the 'marriage penalty'

    In a few short months, I'll pass the milestone that every little girl dreams of: the day she swears - before family and God, in sickness and in health, all in the name of love - that she's willing to pay a much higher tax rate.

    April 15, 2014

  • Allergies are the real midlife crisis

    One of the biggest mysteries is why the disease comes and goes, and then comes and goes again. People tend to experience intense allergies between the ages of 5 and 16, then get a couple of decades off before the symptoms return in the 30s, only to diminish around retirement age.

    April 15, 2014

  • treadmill-very-fast.jpg Tax deduction for a gym membership?

    April marks another tax season when millions of Americans will deduct expenses related to home ownership, children and education from their annual tax bill. These deductions exist because of their perceived value to society; they encourage behaviors that keep the wheels of the economy turning. So why shouldn't the tax code be revised to reward preventive health?

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • bomb1 VIDEO: A year after marathon bombing, Boston remains strong

    The City of Boston came together Tuesday to honor those who were injured and lost their lives at the Boston Marathon on the one-year anniversary of the bombing. While the day was sure to be emotional, those affected by last year's race are showing they won't let the tragedy keep them down.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Google acquires drone maker Titan Aerospace to spread Internet

    Google is adding drones to its fleets of robots and driverless cars.
    The Internet search company said it acquired Titan Aerospace, the maker of high-altitude, solar-powered satellites that provides customer access to data services around the world. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

    April 14, 2014

  • E-Cigarettes target youth with festivals, lawmakers say

    The findings, in a survey released Monday by members of Congress, should prod U.S. regulators to curb the industry, the lawmakers said. While e-cigarettes currently are unregulated, the Food and Drug Administration is working on a plan that would extend its tobacco oversight to the products.

    April 14, 2014

  • Search teams will send unmanned sub to look for missing Malaysian airliner

    Teams searching for a missing Malaysian airliner are planning for the first time to send an unmanned submarine into the depths of the Indian Ocean to look for wreckage, an Australian official leading the multi-nation search said Monday.

    April 14, 2014

  • Why Facebook is getting into the banking game

    Who would want to use Facebook as a bank? That's the question that immediately arises from news that the social network intends to get into the electronic money business.

    April 14, 2014

  • Screen shot 2014-04-11 at 4.49.09 PM.png Train, entertain your pets with these 3 smartphone apps

    While they may not have thumbs to use the phone, pets can benefit from smartphone apps designed specifically for them.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Stepping forward: The real Colbert

    Letterman changed the late-night TV game between his run on NBC's "Late Night" and starting the "Late Show" franchise in 1993. And while it's tough to replace a pop-culture icon, Colbert, in terms of pedigree and sense of humor, makes the most sense.

    April 11, 2014

Featured Ads
Community Events
Photos


Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter
Front page
AP Video
Tributes Mark Boston Bombing Anniversary Raw: Kan. Shooting Suspect Faces Judge US Supports Ukraine's Efforts to Calm Tensions Suspect in Kansas Shootings Faces Murder Charges Ukraine: Military Recaptures Eastern Airport Raw: Storm Topples RVs Near Miss. Gulf Coast NASA Showcases Lunar Eclipse Pistorius Cries During Final Cross-Examination The Boston Marathon Bombing: One Year Later Michael Phelps Set to Come Out of Retirement First Women Move to Army Platoon Artillery Jobs Sex Offenders Charged in Serial Killings Police: Woman Stored Dead Babies in Garage OC Serial Murder Suspects May Have More Victims Family: 2 Shot in Head at Kan. Jewish Center Raw: Horse Jumping Inspires 'Bunny Hop' After Attack, Officials Kill 5 Bears in Florida Popular Science Honors Year's Top Inventions ND Oil Boom Attracting Drug Traffickers
Seasonal Content
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
AP Video
Tributes Mark Boston Bombing Anniversary Raw: Kan. Shooting Suspect Faces Judge US Supports Ukraine's Efforts to Calm Tensions Suspect in Kansas Shootings Faces Murder Charges Ukraine: Military Recaptures Eastern Airport Raw: Storm Topples RVs Near Miss. Gulf Coast NASA Showcases Lunar Eclipse Pistorius Cries During Final Cross-Examination The Boston Marathon Bombing: One Year Later Michael Phelps Set to Come Out of Retirement First Women Move to Army Platoon Artillery Jobs Sex Offenders Charged in Serial Killings Police: Woman Stored Dead Babies in Garage OC Serial Murder Suspects May Have More Victims Family: 2 Shot in Head at Kan. Jewish Center Raw: Horse Jumping Inspires 'Bunny Hop' After Attack, Officials Kill 5 Bears in Florida Popular Science Honors Year's Top Inventions ND Oil Boom Attracting Drug Traffickers
Seasonal Content
Helium debate
Helium
Section Teases

Seasonal Content
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.