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June 30, 2004
Productivity Training Can Help Quell the 'Quiet Rebellion'
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ORLEANS--It's a sad fact of the workplace--the better job you do, the more work you get, and, usually, the more hours you work.

"Busy no longer means busy. Busy means normal," said Laura Stack, of the Productivity PRO in Colorado. "What comes next?"

Stack addressed the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM) annual conference and exposition on the topic of balancing retention and productivity.

In 2002 and 2003, the United States saw the largest two-year growth in productivity--4.7 percent--since 1949 to 1951, Stack said. Much of that resulted from layoffs and belt-tightening.

Laura Stack
"Adding more hours to your work week is not the answer," says Laura Stack.
"A fearful employee is a productive employee," she said. "But is it going to last?"

The upshot includes stress, long hours, low morale, "presenteeism" (sick employees coming to work because they feel they have to), and "mental health days."

The pendulum is just starting to swing back toward hiring and turnover, she said.

"There is a quiet rebellion building where a lot of people are saying, 'No more,'" Stack said.

A 2003 study by Cigna showed that 44 percent of employees surveyed said their jobs were more stressful than a year ago, and 45 percent said they've either considered leaving their jobs in the last year, have left a job, or plan to do so soon.

Retention will become a key issue in 2005, as worker shortage is realized, Stack said.

One solution is productivity training, which Stack called a "win-win" for employers and employees. The basic steps of productivity training include:

  • Identifying key employees
  • Giving those employees productivity training
  • Teaching them to produce the same results in less time (e.g., 50 hours instead of 60)
  • "Giving" employees the time saved (letting them leave earlier)
  • Boosting morale
While these steps sound simple, they sometimes fly in the face of cultural norms, including:
  • "Butts in seats mentality" (if the boss can't see you, you're not working)
  • Telecommuting fears (can't monitor hours)
  • Expecting employees to work during personal time, but not vice versa
Two of the biggest obstacles to productivity are interruptions and meetings, and Stack proposed "codes of conduct" for each. To minimize interruptions, she suggested:
  • Using an understood signal for when you can be interrupted (wearing a certain hat, or putting a sign in the window)
  • Establishing levels of priority for when interruptions are permissible
  • Setting aside "down time" when no interruptions are permitted
  • Always choosing to visit a colleague if you have a choice (because you can decide when to leave)
  • Going into hiding (finding an empty office, or even going to Starbuck's)
A useful code of conduct for meetings might include:
  • Requiring an agenda
  • Using a timekeeper to keep meetings on target
  • Sticking to start and stop times
  • Matching the length of meeting to the importance and complexity of the subject
  • Requiring meetings be called at least two days in advance
  • Having a scribe keep a summary of action items
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