Tag Archives: Workweek

Do Public Sector Employees Volunteer More Than Private Sector Employees?

I have a confession to make right off the bat — I wrote the headline for this post specifically to counter Betteridge’s law of headlines. If you’re familiar with it, then you’ve already realized that the answer to the question posed is yes.

From the research:

The models showed that government employees volunteered more in general, and participated in a wider range of organizations. However, when the data is examined more closely, the models suggested that these initial big differences are driven primarily by volunteering in two specific types of organizations: educational institutions and political groups. As expected, having children in the household predicted involvement in educational institutions. Other factors such as education, income, health, and formal and informal connectedness explained the higher participation in other venues, but even controlling for all these factors, government employees were still significantly more likely to volunteer in educational and political institutions.

I find it interesting that even when controlling for things that we might think have be confounding, the effect still holds. More than that, though, is the sample. The researchers mention that people older than 60 were oversampled, but that they also too steps to account for this. However, it’s noteworthy that the years from which these data are pulled are quite “old.” In fact, they pulled data from 2008 and even in 2002! Of course, given limited access to data, I can understand this, but when taking this into account, I’m inclined to think that if the researchers were to duplicate the study with more recent data, they’d find an even bigger effect. Consider this:

According to an AP-GfK poll of 1,044 adults, three out of ten (29 percent) Americans under the age of 30 agreed that citizens have a “very important obligation” to volunteer, a significant increase from the 19 percent who said the same thing in a 1984 survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago.

There’s also the idea that millennials prefer a career that “matters” over a career solely motivated by money.

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Let’s assume for a second that public sector employees and private sector employees have the same motivations and that they’re equally likely to volunteer. This isn’t true given the research I’ve included above, but stay with me for a second. Let’s also assume that education, socioeconomic status, and all the other possible confounding variables are equal. Meaning, let’s assume that there’s no difference between a public sector employee and a private sector employee except for the number of hours they work each week. It’s no secret that working in some (many?) private sector jobs, 40-hour workweeks (or less) are the exception rather than the norm. So I wonder, maybe public sector employees volunteering more than their counterparts is a question of availability. If pubic sector employees work only 40 hours in a week, while their private sector counterparts are working 50- or 55-hour workweeks, it stands to reason that public sector employees may be more likely to volunteer simply because they have more time to volunteer. Food for thought.

ResearchBlogging.orgErtas, N. (2014). Public Service Motivation Theory and Voluntary Organizations: Do Government Employees Volunteer More? Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 43 (2), 254-271 DOI: 10.1177/0899764012459254

Labor is the Superior of Capital, and Deserves Much the Higher Consideration

Do you recognize those words? Scholars (and/or) American history buffs just might. They were spoken by one Abraham Lincoln on December 3rd, 1861, as part of his first State of the Union address. The quote comes from very near to the end of the speech; the beginning of the third last paragraph. The sentence on its own is worth pondering, but let’s put it in context:

Now there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.

Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation. A few men own capital, and that few avoid labor themselves, and with their capital hire or buy another few to labor for them.

As is clear, Lincoln is referring to what was a major problem at the time — slavery. While those words were initially spoken with regard to slavery, I think that they have a broader application. That is, labor really is the superior of capital and not just in the context of slavery. Without labor, there’d be no capital. Labor is the backbone of any economy — local or global. As a result, it’s frustrating to see how poorly mismanaged the workforce can be.

From a business standpoint, I can understand why managers would want to crimp on labor, both in the number of employees and their However, I see this as extremely short-sighted. Whatever short-term gains are made from this strategy, they’re lost in the longer term when one has to replace the employee because they’ve either quit or because they’re overworked (and needed time off because of stress and/or fatigue).

I wonder if treating labor as if it’s another “expense” or “liability” is endemic to the culture of work in America. If we revisit the chart about vacation from this past summer, we see that just about every country on that list is in Europe and from what we know about the culture of many European countries, there’s an air of slowness that you just don’t find in America. Maybe it’s that European businesses have already learned this lesson of treating the workforce like an expense and realizing that it’s just easier to pay up front. How different would business look like in the US if the workweek went from 40 to 30 and the number of mandatory paid vacation days went from 0 to 20? Even if the US workweek went from 40 to 37.5 as is the case in Canada, how different would things be, then?

This focus on the short-term seems to be in more places than one. It’s even present in the way public companies are structured — they have to report their earnings every quarter. That is, every 90 days — 90! — a company gives a report to their shareholders (and the public) about their earnings. Predominantly, people are looking to see whether a company “beat” estimates. If (when?) a company doesn’t meet estimates, the stock price usually takes a tumble. But what if this incessant push to meet estimates and focus on these 90-day windows doesn’t allow for an appropriate longer term strategy? What if this 90-day crunch is preventing a company from pursuing a strategy that would make it far more sustainable in the long run and if they attempted to pursue that strategy, their stock price would plummet?

I don’t have all the answers to these questions, but I believe the beginning of the answer starts with labor. Companies that honor and respect their workforce tend to perform better.

If You Want a Successful and Sustainable Company, Focus on the Workforce

Several months ago in one of those posts where I write about a bunch of ideas, but don’t flesh any of them out, I wrote the following:

Focus on Labor — I’ve never been the CEO or a highly placed Vice President of a company, but from an outsider’s perspective, I always have a hard time understanding the lack of focus on the labor force. At times, it really looks like labor is the key to success. If the labor force is well taken care of, production and profits tend to do well. It reminds me of that post I did about sustainability and pitchers. The relation here is that when management takes care of the labor force, it is with an eye towards long-term sustainability.

I still believe that this is an important idea. Without the workforce, where would a company’s profits be? Without the workforce, where would the economy be? Even after the rise of the robots, I still think it’ll be really important for companies to take care of their workforce. It turns out, I’m not the only one with this opinion.

From Henry Blodget, CEO and and Editor of Business Insider:

If you watch TV, you’ll be led to believe that the problem with the U.S. economy is that one political team or the other is ruining the country.

A sharp drop in government spending this year is, in fact, temporarily hurting economic growth, but that’s not the real problem.

The real problem is that American corporations, which are richer and more profitable than they have ever been in history (see chart below), have become so obsessed with “maximizing short-term profits” that they are no longer investing in their future, their people, and the country.

This short-term greed can be seen in many aspects of corporate behavior, from scrimping on investment to obsessing about quarterly earnings to fretting about daily fluctuations in stock prices. But it is most visible in the general cultural attitude toward average employees.

Employees are human beings. They devote their lives to creating value for customers, shareholders, and colleagues. And, in return, at least in theory, they share in the rewards of the value created by their team.

In theory.

In practice, American business culture has become so obsessed with maximizing short-term profits that employees aren’t regarded as people who are members of a team.

Rather, they are regarded as “costs.”

And “costs,” as we all know, are supposed to be reduced as much as is humanly possible (except the “costs” of the salaries of senior management and investors–those are supposed to be increased).

Bingo! Mr. Blodget hits the nail on the head. Regarding employees as costs is a fundamental mistake in thinking. As we know, our words are important. Not only for ourselves, but for those around us. He continues:

Whenever you suggest to folks that it doesn’t have to be this way, that some companies can and do balance the interests of shareholders with the interests of customers and employees–and, in so doing, create a symbiotic relationship that supports all of these constituencies–folks call you a “socialist.”

This is a strange insult, because the government has nothing to do with this. But, nevertheless, “socialist” is the label you get branded with if you suggest that the senior managers and owners of America’s corporations should share more of their vast wealth with the employees who create it.

This view of capitalism is that it is a sort of Lord-Of-The-Flies economic system in which the only consideration should be “every man for himself.” In this style of capitalism, leaders do not manage teams and organizations in a way that creates value for everyone–customers, shareholders, and employees. Rather, in this style of capitalism, a handful of winners extract as much value as they can from hapless losers who don’t have the skills, knowledge, or time necessary to “demand a raise” or “go get a better job.”

It doesn’t have to be this way.

There is no capitalist law that says companies have to view employees as “costs” and pay them as little as possible.

Senior managers and owners can choose to share more of a company’s wealth with the people who generate it. They can choose to make only reasonable profits, while still generating compelling financial returns. And they can choose to pay their team-mates living wages instead of viewing them as “costs” and extracting every penny of possible value from them.

If American corporations were struggling to earn money these days, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

But they aren’t.

American corporations have the highest profits and profit margins in history.

American corporations can afford to pay their employees better, hire more employees, and invest more in their future and the country’s future.

But American corporations aren’t doing that.

Instead, American corporations are choosing to divert as much of their value as possible to their owners and senior managers.

Doing this is not a law of capitalism.

It’s a choice.

And it is a choice, unfortunately, that is destroying America’s middle class, robbing American consumers (a.k.a., “employees”) of spending power, and, ironically, hurting the growth of the same corporations that are making this choice.

If your customers are strapped, your company can’t grow.

And, right now, American companies are choosing to impoverish their customers (employees), while skimming off as much wealth as possible for themselves.

The idea of viewing employees as costs is perfectly in keeping with the idea that the US doesn’t require any paid vacation daysWhat kind of a company do you want to work for: one that treats its employees as assets or one that treats its employees as liabilities?

I’d Love to Get Inside Marissa Mayer’s Head: The End of Telecommuting at Yahoo

By now, you’ve no doubt heard that Marissa Mayer is ending telecommuting at Yahoo. There’s been lots of opinion written about why what she’s doing is wrong and lots written about why what she’s doing is right. In general, I think that the research supports the plethora of pros to working from home, but of course, a blanket generalization across all situations stating that working from home is better than being in the office would be near-sighted. There are two articles that I want to highlight.

The first doesn’t specifically state that what Mayer’s doing is “right,” but does lend credence to her decision:

So when Mayer decrees seven months into the job that she wants people to, you know, physically show up at work instead of telecommuting — or else — I’m pretty confident this reflects a data-driven decision more than a cavalier command. In all likelihood, Mayer has taken good, hard looks at Yahoo’s top 250 performers and top 20 projects and come to her own conclusions about who’s creating real value — and how — in her company. She knows who her best people are.

Certainly, this makes sense. It’s unlikely that the executive team of Yahoo woke up one day and said that we need to bring those telecommuters into the office because they’re not working hard enough!

The second is of the opinion that Mayer and Yahoo might be erring in their decision:

The working-from-home ban also reveals that Mayer doesn’t know how to measure her workers’ performance. Swisher quotes a source who says that Mayer has been “irked about Yahoo parking lots that are slow to fill in the morning and quick to empty by 5 p.m.” This is a classic bad-manager misconception—that a full parking lot means people are getting stuff done. And it’s easy for employees to game that system. If my boss makes it clear that she’s looking for my car in the parking lot in the evenings and on weekends, all I’ve got to do to get noticed is spend a lot of time at the office. Sure, this will ruin the rest of my life, but otherwise it’s easy—as long as I’m in the office, even if I’m just playing solitaire, I know I’ll be making a good impression.

An important point, indeed.

As I said earlier, in looking specifically at this situation at Yahoo, I don’t know which side I come down on. In fact, it’s really impossible to know, unless I could get a hold of the data that Mayer used to make this decision. That being said, based on the research that supports working from home, part of me wonders if the data that Mayer used to make this decision isn’t accurately capturing what Yahoo thinks that it is.

How Does a 25-Hour Workweek Sound to You?

Vocation is a very important part of our lives in today’s society. Vocation, usually, gives our lives a sense of purpose. At times, however, our vocation can get in the way of our lives. How? Overwork. This past summer, I linked to a couple of articles at The Atlantic that illustrate this point quite perfectly. The first: No-Vacation Nation: Why Don’t Americans Know How to Take a Break?. And the second: The Case for Vacation: Why Science Says Breaks Are Good for Productivity.

There’s a really important graphic from the first link. I’ve included it below, (but if it’s too hard to read, click on it and it will take you to a bigger version of it).

If you’ll notice, the US is absolute last on this list of OECD countries. Certainly not something that the US should be proud of.

Earlier this fall, I posted a TEDTalk of someone from the New Economics Foundation arguing for a 21-hour workweek. A couple of weeks ago, I came across a news release that the head of the Max Planck research centre was arguing for a 25-hour workweek. There are some key points:

When you’re 20, you would rather spend more time with your friends. When you’re 35, you want time with your kids. But then when you reach 70, you have far too much time on your hands.

This scenario probably sounds familiar to many people today. But there are good arguments for changing this. We should aim for more leisure time in our youth and instead work a bit more when we get older.

”There is strong evidence that elderly people who work part-time are healthier than those who don’t work at all and just sit at home. This is simply because working improves people’s health,” he says.

“The benefits are not just psychological because being an active part of society makes you people feel good about themselves, but also physically, since you use both your brain and your body when you’re working.”

There are also some good interpersonal arguments in support of spreading our working hours over a longer period in our lives.

”The main argument is that this would give young people aged 20-30 more time to care for their children, do sports and other important activities that improve their lives,” says the professor.

”The way it is today, young people are slaving their way through work, looking forward to a long retirement. But why not move that retirement period around a bit so that young people get more valuable time off work?”

How does all of that sound?

The thing is, there’s a culture of overworking. Working 60+ hours a week should not be a badge of honor — it should be a badge of ludicrousness (save for some extreme examples). Vocation is important, yes, but so are other things in life. And, if productivity is what you’re after, it’s important to understand that overworking one’s self is the perfect way to limit productivity. Remember that second link I share above:

It’s typical for families to celebrate the month of August by shutting down the computer and skipping town. From a raw numbers perspective, this counts as lost work. But that’s a short-sighted view, psychologists now say. In fact, by serving as the least productive month for millions of workers, August unexpectedly serves as a productivity-booster.

Just as small breaks improve concentration, long breaks replenish job performance. Vacation deprivation increases mistakes and resentment at co-workers, Businessweek reported in 2007. “The impact that taking a vacation has on one’s mental health is profound,” said Francine Lederer, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles specializing told ABC News. “Most people have better life perspective and are more motivated to achieve their goals after a vacation, even if it is a 24-hour time-out.”

As with most things in business and in life, understanding the different between long-term gains and short-term profits is of the utmost importance with regard to the issue of the workweek.

Replacing the 40-hour Workweek with a 30- or 21-hour Workweek

This past summer, I posted a couple of articles from The Atlantic to Facebook. They both had to do with vacation — more specifically — the lack of vacation in the US when compared to other countries. As America’s health declines, I can’t help but think that there’s something to the idea of a shorter workweek and taking better care of ourselves.

This morning, I came across a TEDxTalk from one of the prominent members of the New Economics Foundation in London. In the video, she makes a rather compelling case for a shorter workweek. I don’t know that I agree with reducing the workweek to 21 hours, but I certainly think the conversation should be had as to the appropriate length of the workweek, especially in the context of declining health.

What if Every Major Religious Holiday Were a National Holiday?

There were a few articles (, , and ) in The Economist over the last few issues that got me thinking about religion. And not any one particular religion — all of them — and how they might be very much interrelated. At the same time, I often think about the growing . It seems the ways of balance has completely gone out the window.

There are lots of different explanations as to why people continue to overwork themselves. One from this claims that Americans mistake overwork for good work. Meaning, they think that if they work harder (they’ll be working better). by way of a calculator that lets you visually see how much time you’re spending on a variety of activities, which include: work, sleep, leisure, chores, meals, commute, etc.

Another contribution to the nature of overworking is the amount of holidays that people are ‘allowed’ to take. In some countries, it’s pretty to have 6, 7, or 8 weeks as holidays. We could also say the workweek itself is a pressure to work harder. In France, they have a . There’s also the idea that you need to work longer hours in order to .

Circling back to my initial point about religion: there are certain days in countries that are designated as . In the US, for instance, Easter and Christmas are holidays for which it is illegal to mandate that someone needs to be at work. According to , there are an assortment of religions represented across the United States.

So, my “big” idea: make all the major religious holidays national holidays.

When I say national holiday, I mean that these are days that are mandatory days off for businesses. I realize that this kind of idea would take an enormous amount of planning, that there would need to be legislation passed, that we’d need to define “major religious holidays,” and all that jazz, but just think about it (abstractly) for a moment.

Think about the extra days off to spend with family. Think about the prospect of religious acceptance for the younger generations. Instead of just “taking the day off and ,” parents could spend the day with their kids explaining to them what the major holiday means to that religion. Or, if there were no kids, the adults could take the day to learn about the culture and religion for the holiday. This could definitely foster a greater sense of compassion and empathy between people of different faiths.