I’ve had around 50 conversations with small business owners who believe they need employees to work more, and that by doing so, more would be accomplished. These owners weren’t talking about tasks involving making pizzas, or fixing cars. They were talking about creative work. The kind that involves coming up with ideas from nothing.
The tension between small business owners and employees is something that will never go away, but minimizing it allows employees to do their best work. The employee wants to grow personally, do better work and move up in their career. The small business owner wants to grow the business, make a bigger impact and earn more money. The employee wants money too, but the difference is they don’t have business equity. Working more hours doesn’t give them the payback that a business owner has so there is a difference in motivations.
For an employee to do the best work they are capable of, they need to stay healthy to have the most energy possible. They need to have a positive relationship with their family so they’re not thinking about their home issues when they should be thinking about their work. They need time to let their brain relax, so the good ideas come to them. With all of that, it’s hard to put in more hours at work and maintain their needs. If someone has a 1/2 hour commute each way, an 8 hour day with a lunch hour, they are at 10 hours of their day used up away from family. Add in an hour at the gym to compensate for being sedentary at a desk job, an hour for getting ready in the morning to shower, eat breakfast, and now 12 hours of the day is gone. Dinner, time with kids, conversation with spouse, house cleanup, diversion, and possible personal development time is left to the remaining 4 hours. For a person with a family, that’s not much. Adding more work hours becomes an obstacle for thinking clearly during their work hours.
A major problem here is the belief that work only happens at work. Personally, thoughts about work happen on my commute, or at the gym, or while I’m doing the dishes. The 8 hour work day is the time to implement these thoughts. Taking plenty of time to think out what’s important vs. what isn’t, is the way to be productive.
A man asks, “Have you ever imagined what it would be like to work at a think tank?”
His friend replies, “No.”
The man proceeds to say, “I imagine a group of coworkers walking up and asking if I want to go to lunch, and telling them, ‘I need a minute to finish up.’ Then proceeding to stare at a wall. After a minute I say, ‘Okay, I’m all done. Let’s go.'”Paraphrase of Jerry Seinfeld
It’s funny to think of work that way, but of course that’s what more work is looking like, not staring at walls per se, but using creativity. As automation continues, work is increasingly marketing, sales, writing books, making movies, website design, programming, and the list goes on. Creative and emotional work is what is left. Take the book writing example, that could take a month, a year or a decade. It’s not clear which will yield better results based on time, it’s more based on the skill of the writer. A deadline makes sense for shipping purposes, but that’s it.
The irony is that the thinker or creative doesn’t have to stare at the wall. They could be walking the dog. They could be ironing clothes. These things don’t seem like work and they weren’t in the industrial era. In fact, to most bosses they seem like distractions, but these are the kind of actions that drive creativity.
As fellow humans, owners and employees share the same needs, though business owners are more accepting of a life skewed around work. That difference in worldview creates the tension between them and their employees. However, a business owner also needs employees that stay long enough to truly understand their business. By asking for too much, these valuable worker’s home life or health will suffer. Continuing their job becomes a decision between the company, or their family and health. That’s a no-brainer, and it makes growing the business that much harder.
Adding to all of this tension is the clock. The clock is one of the most anxiety-inducing instruments the world has ever invented. It stresses out everyone. Workers look at it and become painfully aware of how fast or slow the day is passing, and it makes business owners feel as if no matter how much they do, they are always behind. The clock is a necessity for coordination, though it’s not as useful for people that have solo tasks. Facebook is doing some truly terrible work with the clock.
Facebook isn’t winning any management awards. Someone has to go through all those logs. Is that productive for the company? The people writing the logs become more distracted about what to write and how they will be judged rather than doing the important work serving Facebook customers. I’m sure for many of them, most of their time is spent wondering if they will be chastised or fired. Doing great work is next to impossible under those conditions. Our brains are wired to make us survive. As a natural extension of that, people will be wondering if they will be getting fired, and if there is any doubt, they will start searching for new jobs. Managing in the way Facebook has done hijacks creativity and replaces it with survival thoughts.
An interesting experiment would be a company, perhaps even Facebook to contrast it with the current approach, building a room that has no clocks, no phones allowed, no clocks on computers, and instead of punching a time clock, an employee enters with an agreed daily task list, and punches out when done regardless of whether it’s been an hour or nine. No one is tracked when they came and when they left, only what was needed and what was completed. With creative work, the problem isn’t more time needed, it’s generally lack of direction. Tasks being redone multiple times because the intentions weren’t clear. That’s not solved by more hours. It’s solved by better communication. Perhaps if Facebook saw positive results from this method, they would understand their thinking is backwards and that they need methods that support creativity and not destroy it.
The human brain is the source of creativity in the world. As work becomes increasingly creative, businesses that aren’t paying attention to human psychology will lose. The stakes are enormous. The obstacle is the confusion between lack of direction and the requirement for more time. The clock isn’t the answer, communication and space is. After that it’s about doing the best work a healthy, happy worker can dream up in all that time they have to dream.
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None of this is Right is written by me, Brandon Donnelly. I believe that small business is the backbone of a healthy economy and democracy. Small business encourages competition through generosity, creativity, and skill. Small business provides more opportunity for workers to find a job that works for them. If you believe in small business, generosity, or creativity, my writings are for you.