The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Business

December 3, 2013

Employers step in to prevent worker burnout

LONDON — Volkswagen turns off some employees’ email 30 minutes after their shifts end. Goldman Sachs is urging junior staff to take weekends off. BMW is planning new rules that will keep workers from being contacted after hours.

This surge in corporate beneficence isn’t an indication that employers are becoming kinder and gentler: It’s about the bottom line. After years in which the ease of instant communication via e-mail and smartphones allowed bosses to place greater and greater demands on white-collar workers, some companies are beginning to set limits, recognizing that successful employees must be able to escape from work.

“Industry is now responding,” said Cary Cooper, a professor of organizational psychology and health at Lancaster University, who says the imperative to be constantly reachable by iPhone or tablet is taking a toll on the work delivered at the office. “Employees are turning up, but they’re not delivering anything.”

After seeing colleagues lose their jobs during the Great Recession, workers are more inclined to come in to work, even when sick, surveys show. After hours, physical presence is replaced by the next best thing — a virtual one. Many employees fear switching off, instead deciding to work on vacation, during dinner and in bed with the help of smart phones, laptops and tablet computers.

People also have more data than ever to process — whether they ask for it or not. Information overload cost American businesses just under $1 trillion in employee time lost to needless emails and other distractions in 2010, according to Jonathan Spira, chief analyst of the New York research firm, Basex.

The cost of replacing employees who leave in search of better work conditions is also a concern. A study from the Center for American Progress put the cost of turnover at just over a fifth of the employee’s salary for people making up to $75,000 a year. That goes up exponentially for top managers, with turnover costs as high as 213 percent of salary for very highly paid positions.

After worrying about trimming staff numbers during the recession, employers are focusing on how to keep those who are left from burning out.

JOB SAFETY

One strategy, which Goldman Sachs has been trying, is to make people feel less at risk in their jobs. That’s not easy in most companies, much less so in investment banking, infamous for its competitive environment and grueling work hours.

To keep junior analysts from burning out in the attempt to prove their worth, the bank has decided to start hiring first-year analysts as permanent employees, instead of taking them on as contract workers. It is also encouraging them to not work weekends.

“The goal is for our analysts to want to be here for a career,” said David Solomon, global head of investment banking at Goldman Sachs. “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Work conditions in banking came under scrutiny after an intern at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London died from an epileptic seizure that may have been brought on by fatigue. The case prompted the bank to review work conditions for junior employees.

But it isn’t just the junior staff. Last month, Hector Sants, a senior executive brought in to help London-based Barclays bank overcome a costly scandal, resigned after a leave of absence due to stress and exhaustion. The chief executive officer of Lloyds Bank, Antonio Horta Osorio, took time out in 2011. The CEO AkzoNobel, a Dutch paint and coatings company, did the same last year.

“The HR people now talk about regrettable turnover. We cannot afford to lose our best people because we have fewer people,” said Cooper, the professor. “We will lose them to companies with better work/life balance, where they don’t have to work 19-hour days.”

INFORMATION OVERLOAD

Though technology has helped boost worker productivity over the past few decades, it has come with related costs, like stress.

Technology, for example, is eliminating the downtime or slack that used to be built into the day — such as the time one took going to the library to do research that can now be completed online, says Edward Tenner, author of  “Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences.” Those minutes used to act as a buffer that prevented people from working constantly.

Though physical exhaustion in traditional enterprises was bad, conflicting mental demands can be more problematic, Tenner says, particularly in the United States, where professional workers often don’t have union contracts or the same legal overtime protection as hourly workers do.

“So it’s as the Red Queen said in ‘Through the Looking-Glass,’ it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place,” Tenner said.

Companies haven’t yet come to grips with how bad it is, said Spira, the analyst. Information overload has decreased people’s ability to manage thoughts and ideas. Fixing it means changing company culture — such as the idea that dozens of people need to be cc-ed on a given email.

“Almost every organization is burying its head in the sand,” said Spira, the author of “Overload!: How Too Much Information is Hazardous to Your Organization.”

It is hard for a company to control the amount of technology used in the workplace and at home since it is so integral to modern life. Volkswagen addressed the issue in a blunt, if effective, manner — by deactivating some workers’ email accounts once their shifts were over.

Rival BMW plans this week to unveil new rules to foster a management culture that “values the limits of work hours and reachability.” The company declined to offer specifics, insisting that employees should learn the details before the media.

TOUGHER MEASURES

To get everyone, from intern to CEO, to not overdo it with the work hours, some companies have resorted to bolder measures.

Quirky, a New York based start-up which shepherds inventions to the marketplace, has instituted a “blackout” week once a quarter during which no one except customer service representatives are allowed to work, lest employees be tempted to check e-mail.

“We all dropped pencils together,” said CEO Ben Kaufman, who figured he could bring the idea of re-invention to his own company. “People were getting burned out. They needed to see other things besides their desk.”

And having the message come right from the top was important for Shirin Majid, the company’s 39-year-old head of digital marketing, who laments not having enough time to spend with her husband and 9 month-old daughter, Ella. In 17 years of public relations work, she has yet to take a vacation devoid of that dreaded phone call from the office.

But not last week. No one could call from the office — since no one was at the office.

“If you know that your boss is checked out, you’re going to relax a bit and not worry that you’re going to get an email,” she said. “You can just have a nap.”

All that blackout-inspired creativity is working out for them so far: General Electric just invested $30 million.

 

1
Text Only
Business
  • Business US stocks edge lower after a six-day rise

    Stocks edged mostly lower Wednesday, breaking a six-day winning streak, as investors were disappointed by the latest round of earnings from U.S. companies.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Sales of new US homes plunge 14.5 percent in March

    The number of Americans buying new homes plummeted in March to the slowest pace in eight months, a sign that real estate’s spring buying season is off to a weak start.

    April 23, 2014

  • 3M plant expansion to create 22 jobs

    An $18.7 million expansion at the 3M Co. manufacturing plant in Nevada will create 22 new jobs, a company official said Wednesday. “We started 43 years ago as a small manufacturer,” said Todd Cantrell, plant manager, in a meeting with employees. “We are now the largest 3M plant in the state of Missouri and one of the largest of all 3M plants.”

    April 23, 2014

  • First lady announces one-stop job site for vets

    First lady Michelle Obama has announced a new online effort to link soldiers leaving the military with jobs that match their skill sets.

    April 23, 2014

  • Advocates vow to revive Navajo junk-food tax

    Facing a high prevalence of diabetes, many American Indian tribes are returning to their roots with community and home gardens, cooking classes that incorporate traditional foods, and running programs to encourage healthy lifestyles.

    April 23, 2014

  • Feds seek $211K in fines from Minn. company

    Federal safety regulators are proposing $211,000 in fines for a Minnesota agriculture company that authorities say repeatedly failed to make sure workers weren’t exposed grain dust hazards in Montana.

    April 23, 2014

  • Business US stocks edge lower after a six-day rally

    The stock market slipped Wednesday after rallying for six straight days as investors worked through another round of quarterly earnings reports from U.S. companies.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • GM, lawyers fight over bankruptcy protections

    General Motors Co. and a battalion of trial lawyers are preparing for an epic court fight over whether GM is liable for the sins of its corporate past.

    April 22, 2014

  • Comcast 1Q earns surge on upbeat NBC results

    Comcast Corp. said Tuesday that its first-quarter net income rose by 30 percent as ad revenue surged at broadcast network NBC, helped by the Winter Olympics in Sochi and Jimmy Fallon’s elevation as host of “The Tonight Show.”

    April 22, 2014

  • Valeant, Ackman make $45.6B Allergan bid

    Valeant Pharmaceuticals and activist investor Bill Ackman have unveiled details of their offer to buy Botox maker Allergan, proposing a cash-and-stock deal that could be worth about $45.6 billion.

    April 22, 2014

Poll

A Missouri Senate committee has adopted a state budget provision that would prevent public colleges and universities from offering in-state tuition rates to students living in the country illegally. Do you agree with this?

Yes.
No.
     View Results
Facebook
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter
NDN Video
SKorea Ferry Toll Hits 156, Search Gets Tougher Video Shows Possible Syrian Gas Attack Cubs Superfans Celebrate Wrigley's 100th Raw: Cattle Truck Overturns in Texas Admirers Flock to Dole During Kansas Homecoming Raw: Erupting Volcanoes in Guatemala and Peru Alibaba IPO Could Be Largest Ever for Tech Firm FBI Joining Probe of Suburban NY 'Swatting' Call U.S. Paratroopers in Poland, Amid Ukraine Crisis US Reviews Clemency for Certain Inmates Raw: Violence Erupts in Rio Near Olympic Venue Raw: Deadly Bombing in Egypt Raw: What's Inside a Commercial Jet Wheel Well Raw: Obama Arrives in Japan for State Visit Raw: Anti-Obama Activists Fight Manila Police Motels Near Disney Fighting Homeless Problem Michigan Man Sees Thanks to 'bionic Eye' S.C. Man Apologizes for Naked Walk in Wal-Mart Chief Mate: Crew Told to Escape After Passengers