Category Archives: Leadership

Leadership is an insanely important discipline. Here you’ll find the thought, tools and tricks of the trade of great leaders.

How time scarcity kills productivity – and 5 ways to avoid it

“Your car is having trouble and will need repairs at a cost of around $1,500. How would you handle that situation?”

Scientists from the University of Warwick led by professor Anandi Mani stopped customers at a New Jersey mall and asked them that question. Next the subjects took an IQ test and the results was stunning: For financially well-off participants, this question did not affect their IQ scores in any way. But people who were struggling financially underperformed by 13 IQ-points simply because their money worries had been brought to their attention.

This experiment is described in the excellent book “Scarcity – Why Having Too Little Means So Much” by professor of economics Sendhil Mullainathan and professor of psychology Eldar Shafir, in which the two scientists clearly lay out the negative cognitive effects of scarcity.

When we have too little of something that is important to us we become a little dumber, less disciplined and we make poor choices. This helps explain – among many other things – why poor people keep taking out pay-day loans, even when they should know better and even though those incredibly expensive  loans just put them deeper in the hole.

And this is not only about lack of money; the book gives plenty of examples of how time scarcity has the same kind of effects, making us dumber and worse at managing what little time we do have effectively.

So, knowing this, why is it that so many workplaces mercilessly keep putting their employees under massive time pressure? Why do leaders consistently create time scarcity?

This happens when:

  • Employees are routinely expected to increase their productivity year after year with little or no additional support, training or resources.
  • A manager commits to their team doing more work with the same staff.
  • A company is growing and taking on new clients/projects without a commensurate increase in staff and resources.
  • An organization lays off staff but expects the reduced staff to the same amount of work.
  • Schedules are filled to capacity with meetings and tasks before the work week even starts, leaving no time for ad-hoc or unexpected tasks.

Some leaders think that these situations create a burning platform that pressures employees to work effectively and creatively towards the company’s goals, but the truth is the opposite: Time scarcity reduces employees’ cognitive resources and makes it much harder for them to do their jobs well.

And what’s worse, this can become self-reinforcing. Here’s an example: An organizations reduces headcount leading to increased time pressure and scarcity among those left. This weakens their cognitive capacity and productivity drops, leading to even more busyness and scarcity.

Is this something you see happening in your workplace? Here are 5 things we can do about it.

1: Take time pressure off employees

Instead of giving employees hard-to-reach productivity goals and filling their work week to the brim (and beyond) we need to give them more realistic goals and leave some slack in their schedules so any ad-hoc task that comes along (as it inevitably will) does not topple the whole load.

Most employees actually get more work done when they have productivity goals that are reasonable and within their capacity.

Here’s a great example: The IT company Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor only lets employees work 40 hours a week and then only schedules 32 hours of work per employee per week. That way there is no time scarcity and always time for unexpected tasks. This is described in the excellent book “Joy Inc” by Menlo’s CEO Rich Sheridan.

2: Celebrate good performance

We also need to constantly praise and appreciate people and teams for the good work they do. This give employees a sense of accomplishment and purpose that goes a long way towards combatting time scarcity.

Some workplaces do the opposite though: First giving people unrealistic goals and then hitting them over the head for not reaching those goals.

3: Leave time for learning and development

Every single employee must have time to get better. To learn new professional and personal skills. To reflect on what is working well and what can be improved in the workplace.

This becomes near-impossible under time scarcity, preventing employees from getting better at their jobs.

The IT company Next Jump in New York give each employee significant time every week to develop their skills with a mentor, in weekly meetings or on their own. That way employees always have time for growth and development, which they deem essential to their success. Here’s a great article on how they do it.

4: Maintain good workplace relationships

One of the first things to go in a workplace facing time scarcity is the workplace relationships.

When we are very busy it becomes exponentially harder to care about other people, to help and support co-workers and to maintain a habit of helping each other.  Needless to say, this just makes the effects of busyness that much worse.

Instead we need to make sure that there is always time to create and maintain relationships between employees. There should always be time for a coffee break and a chat with a co-worker. No one should eat lunch alone at their desk. Even something as simple as saying a cheerful “good morning” to your team mates in the morning can make a positive difference – and can be neglected and forgotten under time scarcity.

 

5: Avoid permanent overwork

Some companies try to solve this by making people work more hours. Don’t!

First of all – overwork can kill you:

… those working a 55-hour week face 33% increased risk of stroke than those working a 35- to 40-hour week.

And to make matters worse, all those extra hours don’t even mean you get more work done:

[Overwork] … doesn’t seem to result in more output.

So overwork is killing employees while not improving business results. Can we stop it already?

It’s a topic I’ve talked about a lot on this blog.

The upshot

Simply put, many workplaces put employees in a situation of near-permanent time scarcity, thinking this will pressure them to work harder. The truth is the opposite: It makes them more stressed, more sick, less happy and less productive.

Instead, we should do our very best to reduce time pressures because that way, the organization will be more successful.

Your take

Do you see any of this happening in your workplace? Is time a scarce resource and how does it affect you?

Write a comment, we’d love to hear your take.

Related posts

 

 

5 lessons you can learn from Denmark’s happiest call center

Call centers are notoriously tough workplaces.

But City Call Center in Copenhagen is different. Very different. They were recently named one of Denmark’s best workplaces in the Great Place to Work Survey and people love working here.

In this interview, their founder and CEO Pouline Mangaard explains how she has created the (nearly) impossible: A happy call center.

 Her ideas are simple, effective and are relevant in any kind of workplace.

Book review: Payoff by Dan Ariely

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-10-08-45

Payoff, The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations, is a short book with an important message: “We suck at motivation.”

Based on fascinating research from workplaces and psychology labs  all over the world, the book documents how we consistently fail to understand what really motivates ourselves and others and consequently end up  killing motivation off, when we try to strengthen it, much of the time.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the workplace, where a blind belief in the power of bonuses, raises, promotions and perks has kept managers doing the wrong things for (or to) their employees for decades.

Dan Ariely, a professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, is the perfect person to convey this message. As a researcher he has conducted fascinating and very elegant experiments to uncover what motivates and demotivates us. He shared two of these in this TED talk:

In Payoff he uses his own research and that of others to get to the truth of motivation. And while he clearly shows that performance bonuses can actually reduce performance, he also shares the factors that motivate us to do better. These include things like praise, meaningful work and a real connection to the people you work with.

This is a short book (120 pages) but that just counts in its favor, in my opinion. It is a captivating read, incredibly useful and highly entertaining – in fact I laughed our loud several times while reading it.

In short, I hope I have motivated you to read this book :)

Related posts

 

Why workplaces should let employees choose their own manager

If you don’t have a good relationship with your manager, you will never be happy at work. But how can a workplace ensure that every employee has the right manager – someone they trust, like, respect and communicate well with?

London-based training company Happy have come up with a radical but simple solution: Let every employee pick their own manager.

That way, anyone who is not happy with their boss can simply pick a new one. Incidentally, bad bosses quickly find themselves without employees, eliminating that particular problem.

In this inspiring speech their founder Henry Stewart shares how they do it along with two other great practices that have made Happy so… happy :)

Bob Sutton’s EXCELLENT advice on dealing with a bad boss

How should you deal with a bad boss? Here’s some EXCELLENT research-based advice from Stanford Professor Bob Sutton (51 mins into the video).

On a related note, a journalist once asked me during an interview why employees put up with bad bosses.

Without thinking about it I blurted out “Stockholm syndrome.”

I only later realized I may have been right.

Related posts

Podcast with Søren Lockwood – a (very happy) financial CEO

Michal Srajer, one of our Partners in Prague, is currently travelling the world and interviewing many different people for his podcast about happiness at work. His first interview was with me and you can hear it here.

His second podcast features Søren Lockwood, the CEO of SEB Pension in Denmark, who took his company of 300 serious financial professionals in dark suits through a transformation that has resulted in happier employees, lower absenteeism, happier customers and better results.

You can hear the podcast here:

Søren Lockwood also spoke at our conference this year in Copenhagen, where examined the classic question of whether  you can prove that happiness at work is good for the bottom line. He gave the best answer EVER:

 

At IKEA, umbrellas are CHEAPER when it rains

Complete this sentence: “When it rains, the price of umbrellas goes __.”

If you guessed up you’d be right in most places. But at IKEA stores, you’d be wrong.

Here’s how they price their umbrellas depending on the weather:

ikea-umbrella

Yes, on rainy days, umbrellas are cheaper :o) What a nice way to make customers happy.

This is no coincidence – happiness matters at IKEA. Their founder, Ingvar Kamprad, once said this:

Work should always be fun for all colleagues. We all only have one life. A third of life is work. Without desire and fun, work becomes hell.

To me, this attitude only makes sense. Making your employees happy makes the business more profitable and making your customers happy keeps them coming back.

It ain’t rocket surgery, and fortunately more and more companies are figuring this out and committing themselves to happiness at work.

Join the first ever conference about happiness at work in India

india-conference

On November 18+19 we are arranging the first ever conference about happiness at work in India together with Les Concierges and Naresh Jain of ConfEngine.

We have just announced the schedule with an amazing lineup of speakers and workshops, including critical themes like:

  • Finding and using your strengths at work
  • How to have a happy career
  • How to lead with happiness
  • How to deal with stress and busyness
  • Case stories from some of the world’s truly great workplaces
  • How to create more democratic workplaces

… and many, many more great topics. Speakers include:

  • Mikael Kamber, TV news anchor and author
  • Traci Fenton, founder and CEO of WorldBlu
  • Tim Dorsett, Culture Ambassador at Innocent Drinks
  • Nic Marks, Economist and founder of Happiness Works

And of course myself :) See the entire schedule here.

Attendance is limited to 300 people, so better get your tickets now.