For generations we have long focused on the hours of work, be that 9-5, 8-8, (or longer). As a society we have fixated on the hours of operation and, in doing so, evolved the act of presenteeism. Although it might have seemed logical pre the internet and a globalised economy, presenteeism is no longer efficient or practical and is at the root of many of our equality issues. Working longer doesn’t mean working harder – it can often mean the reverse – and it is time that employers take positive action to see if their working practices match their client and consumer needs and generate the best results and outputs from their staff. Let’s look at the evidence…
Is presenteeism an efficient way of working?
The short answer is no. Why do we need to be present all the time – sitting at our desks putting in the hours? Often it is done to show willing but for a number of professions, from law firms to plumbers, the number of hours you sit at your desk or at a job also equates to the number of hours billed. This means that, in many cases, presenteeism = billable hours.
The more hours you bill the more you earn (company and yourself) and the more you earn the greater chances of promotion.This model is not effective and is increasingly being challenged by the market place (by both customers and workers), especially in my profession – the law. Billable hours and a culture of presenteeism is rightly being called into question because it is an out of date practice, which essentially rewards inefficiency and penalises someone who can do the job fast.
Presenteeism is no longer practical
In the millennial era, the 24 hour market place, the cost and logistics of transportation, the lack and cost of childcare and the need for two parent/family incomes has put the 9-5 model under intense strain. It is this strain that has in part lead to the explosion of the shared economy which is very much about output not sitting at your desk for a set number of hours per day.
Technological advances mean that there is far less of a need to be physically present at work. Paradoxically, advances in mobile technology are often cited as a key facilitator of workaholism in certain employees, but, channelled adeptly, technology should allow employees and employers far greater freedom in determining working hours and practices.
Presenteeism is the root cause of inequality in the work place
The debate about whether valuing hours over output has a significant impact on gender equality is just starting. And a little too late as in my view it absolutely does. Within the legal or accountancy professions for example, the target of hours and billable hours, which governs every aspect of your career, from salary to promotion, penalises many women, especially working mothers who are time strapped. Valuing output over hours should be central to the conversation about increasing equality at management level within organisations. To attract more women in senior positions we need to change the value proposition: value must be measured in terms of work done, aims achieved and projects completed – not bums on seats.
For many traditional, long standing companies, changing their value proposition from hours to output is not an easy move. However, it is the future not just of an efficient and effective corporate model, but also the future of work. It is essential that companies stuck in the “hours” proposition re-think their position. If your company has a long hours culture, you should take time to assess why this is the case. What are your employees’ motives for working long hours? What is senior management’s attitude to flexible working? How tied to the billable hour is your performance management system? Do your employees’ hours truly mirror your client needs or deep-rooted practice and historic assumptions as to what is really needed to do the day job?
It’s time to make time for change.