Guest Post: If it is to stop another CAP System failure – Scotland must choose between the clashing cultures of work ethics  

There’s a war going on in the office. It’s a war between two cultures.  

  
 The battle lines are not drawn along any national boundary, but within our daily work. The war is between the culture of long hours and the culture of high productivity.

The culture of long hours is on the rise in the City of London.

Recently there has been a significant rise in the number of employees putting in more than 48 hours a week — that’s at least nine hours a day — from 10 per cent of the population in the Nineties to 26 per cent now.

http://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/welcome-to-the-70-hour-working-week-8367659.html

Multinational corporations are trying to push this culture north, firing those who insist on spending time with their family. Consider these words from Ratan Tata shortly before cutting jobs in Scunthorpe:

“It’s a work-ethic issue. In my experience, in both Corus and JLR, nobody is willing to go the extra mile, nobody.”

“I feel if you have come from Bombay to have a meeting and the meeting goes till 6pm, I would expect that you won’t, at 5 o’clock, say, ‘Sorry, I have my train to catch. I have to go home.'”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/jobs/8527734/British-work-ethic-condemned-by-Indian-tycoon.html

This attitude was echoed by Spectromax boss Dominic Prabhu in his recent times interview.

http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/article1675793.ece

Spectromax Scotland wants to bring the same work ethic to Scotland. In their press release announcing 300 new jobs they focus yet again on the need to work long hours:

Instead of sticking to rigid working times, we concentrate more on the amount of hours our engineers are working, to ensure that whether your servers go down at 10am or 10pm, we can always provide support.

Instead of good workforce management that ensures that a fair rota provides the coverage needed workers are expected to be ‘flexible’ and extend their working week.

This push for increased working hours is in opposition to Scotlands Economic Strategy.

Improving Scotland’s productivity is central to achieving the twin aims of Scotland’s Economic Strategy (SES): improving economic competitiveness and tackling inequality.

http://www.gov.scot/About/Performance/scotPerforms/purposetargets/productivity

Working longer hours is is direct opposition to both aims.

Greater inequality is linked to longer working hours.

Working longer hours reduces productivity.

Regarding the link between long hours and inequality the Royal Economic Society state in a report by economics professors Samuel Bowles and Yongjin Park:

Increasing income inequality induces people to work longer hours…

In a similar way, people in countries where economic inequality is in decline tend to reduce their working hours. 

In Sweden, for example, average annual working hours fell by 25% during the heyday of social democratic levelling between 1960 and 1980. 

But in the next two decades, with inequality rising again, Swedish working hours increased by 12%.

For productivity a working week of around 40 hours has long been established as the most productive. The pioneer of the working week was Henry Ford, a man who knew about achieving productivity and prosperity.

Ford’s next act came in September 1926, when the company announced the five-day workweek. 

As he noted in his company’s Ford News in October, “Just as the eight-hour day opened our way to prosperity in America, so the five-day workweek will open our way to still greater prosperity … 

It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either lost time or a class privilege.”

http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1977881_1977883_1977922,00.html

The truth of Ford’s clear thinking is still being reaffirmed in the 21st Century. 

 The Harvard Business Review sums up the matter: “The Research Is Clear: Long Hours Backfire for People and for Companies.”

There’s a large body of research that suggests that regardless of our reasons for working long hours, overwork does not help us. 

For starters, it doesn’t seem to result in more output. 

In a study of consultants by Erin Reid, a professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, managers could not tell the difference between employees who actually worked 80 hours a week and those who just pretended to.[1] 

While managers did penalize employees who were transparent about working less, Reid was not able to find any evidence that those employees actually accomplished less, or any sign that the overworking employees accomplished more.

Considerable evidence shows that overwork is not just neutral — it hurts us and the companies we work for. 

Numerous studies by Marianna Virtanen of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and her colleagues (as well as other studies[2]) have found that overwork and the resulting stress can lead to all sorts of health problems, including impaired sleep, depression, heavy drinking, diabetes, impaired memory, and heart disease. 

Of course, those are bad on their own. But they’re also terrible for a company’s bottom line, showing up as absenteeism, turnover, and rising health insurance costs[3]. 

Even the Scroogiest of employers, who cared nothing for his employees’ well-being, should find strong evidence here that there are real, balance-sheet costs incurred when employees log crazy hours.

If your job relies on interpersonal communication, making judgment calls, reading other people’s faces, or managing your own emotional reactions — pretty much all things that the modern office requires — I have more bad news. 

Researchers have found that overwork (and its accompanying stress and exhaustion) can make all of these things more difficult. [4]

https://hbr.org/2015/08/the-research-is-clear-long-hours-backfire-for-people-and-for-companies

[1] https://hbr.org/2015/04/why-some-men-pretend-to-work-80-hour-weeks

[2] https://hbr.org/2015/04/working-long-hours-makes-us-drink-more

[3] https://hbr.org/2005/11/are-you-working-too-hard
[4]  https://hbr.org/2014/12/working-too-hard-makes-leading-more-difficult

In the UK increased insurance costs equates to a greater burden on the NHS. The link between working long stressful hours and poor health is well documented. As Gaby Hinsliff wrote in her Guardian article “We are working harder than ever and it’s killing us.”

Long hours are associated with a greater risk of heart disease, stroke and even diabetes; and the evidence suggests that if anything, lack of sleep is underrated, linked as it has been to everything from obesity to premature mortality. 

Pilots crash, surgeons slip, and politicians lose perspective when they’re tired, while staying up all night to finish the job leads as often to knackered incoherence as it does to success.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/27/working-harder-more-chill-time-long-hours

The working of long hours has been a recurring theme for the SAF project.

 Every time ministers apologise for failing to meet a promised delivery they stress how hard people are working. Here’s just two of many examples:

Mr Lochhead said: “Our team is working hard to be able to start making payments before the end of the year. Of course at this stage in the year I can’t make any guarantee of that.”

https://www.fginsight.com/news/lochhead-wont-guarantee-that-2015-basic-payments-will-be-on-time-4247

“The hard work and effort that has gone on behind the scenes to get us to this point cannot be overstated.

http://news.scotland.gov.uk/News/Farm-payments-underway-20e2.aspx

Has all this hard work resulted in successful outcomes? No. 

 As the above research shows, these long hours is actually killing the projects productivity.

In the early days of IT the culture of working long hours was so ingrained it was given a special name: Death March Projects. In his book “Death March Projects” industry expert asks why this approach is taken:

Why do they happen? 

Because corporations are insane and, as consultant Richard Sargent commented to me, “Corporate insanity is doing the same thing again and again, and each time expecting different results.”[1] 

And why do we participate in such projects? 

Because, as consultant Dave Kleist observed in an e-mail note, “Death march projects are rarely billed as such, and it takes a lot of work when being hired from the outside to discover if your hiring company is prone to creating death march projects.

This corporate insanity was clear in the Time’s interview with Spectromax boss Dominic Pradu.

“I’ve been working in the IT industry for years and I regularly find that relatively simple projects end up spiralling out of control for one reason or another.”

http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/article1675793.ece

There is one fundamental reason why Prabhu’s projects keep spiraling out of control: he is “prone to creating death march projects.” 

Despite seeing projects spiral out of control on a regular basis he keeps taking the same approach again and again and again. 

 Of course, it isn’t really insanity, because he is charging by the hour and so this strategy is a very profitable.

Are these really the jobs that Scotland wants?

Not getting to see your family while failing to achieve any meaningful results? Working longer hours to survive while company directors see their profits soar?

– GB

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