Productivity Improvement | 09.02.2013

Working With Employee Work Ethics in Different Countries

Typical day in the life of Steve (software programmer at a Bay area, USA, company)

After a 20 minute drive from home, Steve reaches 5 minutes late due to heavy traffic on 101. Parking some way off, he walks briskly to his building, climbs up to the first floor, and joins his team meeting at 8:05 am. Ending the meeting sharp at 9 am, Steve is busy till 4:30 pm.

His lunch is a quick walk to the cafeteria on the ground floor to grab a sandwich and head back to his desk. He has a few coffee breaks – just across his office to the pantry where the coffee pot is always ready, and back to his office. His office time is 8.5 hours, and work time is almost 8 hours.

There are no calls from family or friends, except for his wife reminding him to pick up some groceries. All unknown calls go to his voicemail, which he catches up on his drive back home. Home is family time – early dinner, some TV, pay some bills, and hit the bed at 10 pm.

Typical day in the life of Santosh (software programmer at a large IT firm in Bangalore)

After a 1 hour drive in heavy traffic, Santosh finds parking after hunting around for 5-10 minutes to find an empty slot in the basement parking. A long queue at the elevator means that he reaches his meeting room at 10:15 am.

Despite being 15 minutes late, he sees that half the team has yet to arrive. The meeting starts at 10:20 and meanders on till 11:45 am.

The day is very busy, but with long breaks. Tea/coffee and lunch means more time for the elevator and walk to the campus cafeteria, at least 4-5 times in the day. Lunch is 45 minutes long, with a long debate with friends on the latest developments in politics, cricket, and movies.

There are other unintended breaks for personal calls and ubiquitous sales agents of insurance, credit card etc. The evening is frantic as he struggles to complete his deliverables for the US customer. After another long drive home in traffic, there is still more work to do. His client calls him late at night because the emails sent by the team were not very clear. He sends some follow-up emails to explain. After some TV with family, he hits the bed at 11 pm, after a real tiring day.

What can change?

The irony is that despite his long hours in office, the customer’s perception is that Santosh is not as productive as their US team members like Steve. Santosh too is not happy about the lack of appreciation, and has complaints about his work-life balance. Part of the problem is that while time in office was 9 hours, his actual time on work was only around 6 hours (compared to 8 hours for Steve).

Obviously Santosh cannot do much about the traffic. But a lot more focus and fewer distractions can help. How about fewer tea/coffee breaks and a fixed time lunch? Ask HR for a training session for his team on effective emails, so that communication becomes more effective. Encourage everyone to start and end meetings on time. Put phone on mute and return calls only during breaks.

Why the difference between Steve and Santosh?

Productivity experts at Sapience point out that frequent interruption at work cause a significant drop in productivity. Breaks are required but they should be limited and for 5-10 minutes.

One study has pointed out to a difference in work culture. The Western world has had 150+ years of industrial revolution. Over several generations, a strong work ethic has set in. In India, this is perhaps the first or second generation of a global workforce. Earlier generations worked in an economy that was agrarian and in cities, mostly in the government sector where efficiency did not matter.

If we Indians want to be truly global, then we have to introspect and change.