I had a conversation last week with someone (doesn’t matter who), and he mentioned that he thought his company could afford to let go of 25% of the people in his group if they really hit financial straights. This person already works 9.5 hour days and often talks about how certain times during the year require longer hours to meet seasonal demands. This is consistent with his colleagues.
So I asked why he thought this, because in my little ol’ opinion, a group of people working 9.5 hours days as a base case isn’t exactly fuel for firing 25% of the workforce.
He said something like “I think we could all work more efficiently. Right now, I take time to think about things sometimes. I don’t always feel rushed or like I’m battling a tight deadline. I could squeeze more into my days.”
While this person had no intention of starting an argument, this comment infuriated me! It’s not this person at all that makes me so angry. Instead, it’s that this person’s views are not isolated but consistent with a relatively pervasive mentality that, while at work, we can be machines. We can produce eight hours of output in an eight hour day. This paradigm is precisely the reason (or at the very least a greatly contributing one) why so many of us feel overworked and stressed about jobs, fighting tooth and nail to maintain some semblance of a fulfilled life outside of our jobs.
But we aren’t machines. We never will be. (We may be replaced by machines some day. You might want to start reviewing your resume.) But to think that we can produce output like machines drives me nuts! And really, even the best and most efficient and effective manufacturing and production plants schedule down time and maintenance.
Everywhere in life we hear about the importance of taking breaks, slowing down, letting ideas percolate. But for some reason, this seems to be an overlooked priority in many fields (at least those to which I am exposed). Does it not seem straightforward that we won’t do our best work if we don’t have time to take a few breaths and just think about it?
It only seems obvious that things like stretching our bodies physically, giving our eyes a break from the computer to prevent weakening and deterioration, and other types of restorative activities are important.
Yet this person, who represents the paradigm that is ultimately the genesis of my frustration, considers the time he spends “thinking about things” wasteful and indicative of time that could be better spent producing output (whatever that may be). But what kind of output gets produced when it’s rushed and not sufficiently contemplated?
Let’s step back. If we are always rushed, we make more mistakes. Then we waste time fixing and being angry about them. Sounds inefficient.
If we don’t prioritize time to “think about things,” when will we devise new strategies or ideas to make things better, hash out new business plans, or even take time to ensure we are delivering the best product to meet our boss’ requests.
So next time we are budgeting our upcoming project or determining who we need to hire or fire, let’s be realistic about the human nature of our teams. Balanced, engaged and reflective yet challenged teams will produce the best work. How many people (real people – not machines or robots) does it really take to complete the work when committing a fair and reasonable amount of time in our days to the project at hand?
As a sidenote: I fully recognize not everyone works this way. But A LOT of people seem to have this perspective. Further, I’m not referring to my own employer, so we can get that speculation out of the way.