Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

We're living in a period characterized by corporations that seem never to have enough.

Oh, yes, they come over all socially-conscious on occasion for PR's sake.

But when it comes to, say, tax matters, they lobby to get more.

They're only human, after all.

It's quaint, then, that the University of Texas has just released a study that says corporations are suffering greatly. 

They're paying employees more than $100 billion a year for doing nothing.

What is the cause of this cataclysm?

Why, idle workers.

Yes, shameless, shifty employees are, it seems, costing their bosses a fortune.

Their greatest crime appears to be that they're human.

Here's some science-speak from the research:

"The goal of having employees available during idle time may be counteracted by work-stretching: workers' natural tendency is to stretch out their work unproductively, without a noticeable improvement in error rates, when they anticipate empty idle time after task completion. Moreover, these studies suggest that the deadtime effect is driven by time discounting: as idle time draws closer, it exerts a non- linear, accelerating negative impact on worker task completion speed."

Gosh.

Workers "stretch out their work unproductively." 

Apparently, when they know there is idle time coming after the task at hand, they slow down. 

I pause for your mouth to open wide and allow a fly a happy home.

Yes, human beings don't like having nothing to do at work. Worse, they don't like the idea that their bosses think they have nothing to do, as they might, you know, fire them.

But here's how the boffins' Practical Implications section begins.

"This research provides evidence for a frequently experienced, yet largely ignored, phenomenon that commonly occurs in the work place: employees don't always have enough work to do."

Please forgive me if the following sentences have typos. I'm banging my head against my computer as I write. 

The researchers did offer one cheery conclusion.

They said that their research shows that if bosses allow employees some leisure time -- such as online shopping, web surfing or some other leisure activity -- this might actually speed up their productivity.

They worry, though, that the thought of some pleasure on the horizon will also allow workers to become distracted and slow down their work.

You will, I hope, adore the researchers' suggestions as much as I do.

"Another way to prevent secondary activities from interfering with primary tasks is to make engaging in leisure activities permissible during free time in a public space -- for example, by providing access to games in a break room. Increased visibility of employees engaging in leisure activities could discourage the use of such activities when there are primary work tasks available."

Yes, make sure you can spy on their extracurricular activities, so that they're not "getting away with anything."

Please forgive me if I sound a tad exasperated. 

Corporations are making record profits. Some are better managed than others. Employees of some are happier than those of others. 

Yet how much of the alleged lack of productivity on the part of workers is due to their bosses' behavior?

How much money is lost when bosses act only in their personal self-interest, rather than that of the business as a whole?

How much is lost when CEOs "manage" only to increase the worth of their stock holdings, rather than the longer-term future of the enterprise?

How much, indeed, is lost because bosses believe workers are mere machines, tasked to perform certain duties "productively," rather than human beings with, you know, foibles and feelings?

The best bosses have an intuitive feeling for how work gets done and who does it.

They understand their businesses intimately, because they bother to understand them.

Some, though, prefer to listen to management consultants, who sell them on some fine strategy that optimizes performance.

Of course, a lot of it involves some very lazy thinking.

Published on: Dec 21, 2017
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