Friday, August 10, 2007

Employee productivity, quality of life etc.

Great little article in the Economist this week. Here's an excerpt (well, sort-of):
AMERICANS are hard workers, but not necessarily the most productive, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics. It has compared America's output per worker, and output per hour, with that of other rich countries. The average American worker produced $90,000 of output in 2006, measured at purchasing-power parity. Only Norwegians, some of whom work on oil-rigs, did better. Using output per hour, however, shows a different picture. Employees in Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands and France all churn out more than Americans' $50 an hour. Proof, perhaps, that workers are motivated best by shorter hours and more holidays.

Ouch! Look at Canada - we're not fairing too well are we?

A couple of thoughts. A few years ago I visited IBM's Bromont, Quebec plant where they do semiconductor assembly and testing. We were talking about multiple shifts for plant employees and they said they'd come to the conclusion that the night shift cost more than it delivered due to low productivity and so they canceled it. They now work a maximum two shifts. This is intuitively correct and is supported by my own experiences in a plant environment.

I also have a background in software development process improvement, having implemented various process methodologies dependent on the need. One of the tenets of eXtreme Programming is the 40 hour work week. Here's the rule:
Working overtime sucks the spirit and motivation out of a team. Projects that require overtime to be finished on time will be late no matter what you do. Instead use a release planning meeting to change the project scope or timing. Increasing resources by adding more people is also a bad idea when a project is running late.

Projects that require employees to work more than 35-40 hours/week have been poorly managed. The right amount of tension should have existed from day one - tension being the gap between what is being delivered and what is expected. Too much and it turns into pressure which over a long period of time is energy-draining. The right amount and team feels inspired to work harder and comes to work energized each day.

We are quite critical of Europeans, I know I have been, in the area of economic productivity and competitiveness. If we take our eyes off what we consider to be their 'faults' we might just learn something.