In This Edition:
1. Our Distracted but Productive Workforce
2. Great Expectations
3. A Reflection on Reflection
Our Distracted but Productive Workforce
Today, workers in all types of organizations, including government, non-profit sector groups, health care and education, as well as private industry, have advanced tools that aid them in ways that the workforce ancestry could hardly imagine. Today’s career professional, frittering with email and cell phones and all, outperforms yesteryear’s career professional in terms of getting things done.
The computer has actually (finally!) increased U.S. labor productivity measured in output per hour. Robert Gordon, author of Macroeconomics (9th edition), reports that labor productivity is now on the order of 10 times what it was when the first electricity plant began operation in 1882. To be sure, intermittently many people goof off at the click of a mouse. Surveys show that non-job related web-surfing and e-mail correspondence is rampant. Who doesn’t make personal phone calls or attend to personal business during the workday?
Even with the latest diversions, most workers are making diligent efforts a decent percentage of the time. The higher level of industriousness among today’s workforce may be a sensible reaction to the competitiveness in the workplace, a scarcity of higher paying jobs, or the fear of being axed. It could be because they’re dedicated, goal-oriented, highly ethical, fearful of losing their jobs, or a combination of all the above. Or, it may be a result of improved workplace monitoring techniques.
An employer’s ability to gauge actual performance levels of employees has never been greater than it is today. Local area networks rule. So do surveillance cameras. Surveys show that more than 60% of employers monitor employees activities and at least 15% of employers observe employees via hidden camera. No fun.
Perhaps an underlying element for the increase in productivity across the board is the increase in expectations. As soon as greater technological capabilities come along, BAM!, so do expectations. In 1827, the Erie Canal became functional for the passage of horse-drawn canal ships — at the blazing speed of four miles per hour. So many vendors wanted to transport their goods from the west through the Canal and to the Hudson River down to New York City, that the Canal immediately became clogged. And so, it was enlarged, then again dramatically enlarged, and then yet again.
At every junction, expectations about the traffic volume that the Canal could handle rose and then, almost instantly, existing Canal capacity was never enough. Soon the railroads became popular and for many, the Canal fell into disuse until it became a recreational and tourist attraction in the 20th century. It went from expectation to over-expectation to abandonment within a generation. How cold!
In the typical office, before electric typewriters, and certainly before PCs, getting 25 or 30 original business letters out the door in a day represented an impressive achievement, and all that an employer could expect from a worker in one day. Now, anyone, and I mean anyone, including some ten year-olds, can generate 500 to 1,000 letters in a day if desired, and that wouldn’t even be news.
On any given day, the aggregate of emails sent by individuals, and we’re not talking about spam here, is hundreds of times greater than the entire aggregate of web pages accessible on the Internet. Therein lies our modern dilemma: we each have the ability to add to the overflowing tide that each of us experiences.
No matter how competent, adept, organized, or clever you may otherwise be, virtually all career professionals today find themselves in a daily tidal wave of information, the likes of which are unprecedented in the history of the human race. The unvoiced expectation is that you’re supposed to be able to handle it all. British author and psychologist David Lewis, Ph.D. says that “having too much information can be as dangerous as having too little. It can lead to a paralysis of analysis, making it harder to find the right solutions or make decisions.”
When your brain is always engaged, when your neurons are always firing, when you find yourself in a continual mode of reacting and responding instead of steering and directing, the best and brightest solutions that you are capable of producing rarely see the light of day. Hopefully, desirably, thankfully, you’re not among the lot who strays for large blocks of time throughout the day. You recognize that we live in an information overloaded society with too many websites, publications, and electronic media bidding for your attention. You have the ability to self-regulate.
A Reflection on Reflection
As the world wide web and interactive media begin to purvey our lives at even higher levels than they do now through myriad hand-held and miniature devices as well as publicly pervasive audio/video displays, any career professional who wants a quiet, reflective moment is going to have to FIGHT FOR IT.