Productivity Improvement | 04.17.2013

Effective Work Time: The Key to Working Smarter, Not Longer

We must have all seen a mail on employee productivity, supposedly written by N R Narayana Murthy,  doing the rounds on social media.  While it is debatable whether the author is really Mr Murthy or not, it does make some valid points and raises pertinent questions.  Namely –

  1. Does working long hours make for a hard-working employee?
  2. Does working long hours make an employee seem valuable to their employer?
  3. Does working long hours really make an employee valuable to their employer?
  4. How many hours must an employee really work to be valuable?
  5. How does an employee’s productivity co-relate with the number of hours spent in office?

On the face of it, it may appear that the answers to these questions are self-evident, going by the large and growing number of employees who work long hours (it is a cut-throat competitive world, after all!) – Yes, Yes, Yes, As many as possible, Linear co-relation – respectively.  But, as happens with so many other supposedly self-evident answers, these answers too would be incorrect.  Let’s see how.

1. Longer does not mean better

It is not only employees who are under the impression that longer must necessarily be better (in terms of productivity) – many employers too fall prey to believing in this fallacy in the absence of any other data on productivity.  Because it is relatively easier to measure how many hours an employee is in office, they tend to use that as a metric of productivity.  Unfortunately, that is an incorrect metric, and is like judging the quality of a book by the number of pages it has.  Just like a fatter book does not necessarily mean a better book, longer hours in office do not necessarily mean higher productivity.  In the case of longer hours, moreover, it is much more likely to be counter-productive than productive, because of the focus and fatigue factor.

2. If longer does not mean better, what does better mean?

In general, when it comes to productivity, what is meaningful and important is the actual amount of time, with the appropriate amount of focus, spent on actual work.  Let us call this effective work time.  Effective work time is much more important and valuable as a metric for both employees and employers than the so-called total work time (i.e – the total time spent in the office).

For employees, because they can reduce the total time spent in office while still keeping effective work time the same, and thus enjoy a better work/life balance, and
For employers, because they can use this more realistic measure of productivity in their overall planning – including but not limited to employee assessment, time estimation, product roadmap, milestones and targets, capacity planning etc.

This way, it is a win-win for both the parties, that are usually in a conflict situation when it comes to productivity assessment.

3. But how do you measure effective work time?

Measuring effective work time (and thus productivity) is a hard problem and this is where many employers stumble.  Many of them assess productivity based on deliverables or milestones met, and that is a reasonable way, no doubt, but it does have its limitations.  For example, it cannot answer the question of whether the given deliverable or milestone was the best that could have been done?  In other words, was an employee putting in the most effective work time or could more deliverables have been achieved within the same total time?  In the absence of this data, that productivity metric is incomplete.

Sapience is a productivity measurement tool that addresses this question squarely by automatically tracking and measuring effective work time, and provides a clear way for both employees and employers to understand the percentage of effective work time within the total work time.

The data and analysis from more than 30,000 users and 24 million work hours that Sapience has tracked so far provides the first startling evidence that working smarter is indeed better than working longer, by showing that the top 20 percent of employees put in nearly double the effective work time for almost the same total work time as compared to the bottom 20 percent employees.  Guess which employees out of these two sets get more promotions, better raises and enjoy a much better balance and quality of life?

You can decide in which set you want to be, and then let Sapience show you the way.