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Work Harder or Work Smarter, Work Less and Achieve More?


We don’t want to get into national stereotyping. but the Washington Post is just begging to open that particular can of worms. is a short video blowing the whistle on the fact that US workers are doing longer hours and yet being less productive that many other nations.  Britain doesn’t come out too well in the OECD figures either, in relation to other European Countries or in relation to its own past.  We seem to be working longer hours and yet producing less.  LinkedIn’s  #1 HR Group has a long thread going about the topic; is it a matter of cultural stereotyping or a matter of local culture?  Is it due to a failure to take breaks making people less capable of being productive?

I have done a little straw poll amongst some people I know; nothing very scientific, but just a request for anecdotes on the lines of “You are clearly working longer hours....are you actually achieving a correspondingly greater amount?”

The over whelming response is “Not consistently”.

The emails tend to go on to cite some person/organisation specific reasons for this paradox. Here are a few;

“Since the redundancy programme I’m trying to do two people’s jobs but that just isn’t viable”

“No one wants to stick their neck out nowadays so my boss wants to check and change pretty much everything I do”

“I just can’t get the budgets I need to do the job  as well as I could; I get by and do enough but it is bl***y hard work and not as effective as it could be”

“No one dares to leave the office before the boss does so we all tend to work longer hours”

“Being available by mobile phone, paradoxically, makes my boss, colleagues and customers happy to ask me to do things out of hours, whereas before mobile phones (oh God, that makes me sound old) it would have just waited until the next day”

National traits inevitably surely have an effect; the so called “protestant work ethic” is more about activity than achievement and so is more likely to generate longer hours.  Last week when in the UK the sun was shining and the sky was a deep Mediterranean blue I noticed that the office was empty and the park was full much earlier than normal.

I’m pretty certain that industry sectors and norms also impact; more of our businesses are service orientated and most retail and other service businesses now operate longer hours to be more customer focussed, rather than to boost profits.

Here at we are thinking of running a survey to get a more scientific response than my little email round robin.  Watch this space. 

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