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职场

最佳工作时长探秘

Laura Vanderkam 2011年06月09日

当今世界,职场动荡,人们倾向于工作不休。但是到了特定的时间节点,人们必须回家。不过,如何确定这个时间节点却是个棘手的问题。

    当前,就业市场充满了不确定因素。因此,那些拥有稳定报酬的幸运儿们在收工之前通常都会三思而行。但是,再多回复几封电子邮件,或者在办公室无所事事地多呆一个小时,到底有没有好处呢?每周的工作时长是否有一个最佳上限呢?

    这个问题非常棘手。每周工作1小时,肯定不可能做好工作;每周工作168个小时——整整一周全天24小时工作——也并不合适。因为一个睡眠不足的人不可能正常工作(更不用说长时间不洗澡还会产生难闻的异味)。

    答案肯定是介于两者之间的收益递减点,在这个节点之前的工作时间可以大幅提高生产效率,但之后的额外工作时间却并没太大好处。问题是,到底多少个小时最合适呢?

    在竞争激烈的经济体中,人们依然重视家人和自己的休闲时间,找到这个问题的答案将使企业拥有战略性的优势。所以,在这个问题上,很多人的观点相互冲突也就不足为奇了。

    美国纽约市市长迈克尔•布隆伯格曾经在一次例行的毕业典礼演讲中告诫毕业生们:“第一个到公司,最后一个离开,这样做绝对没坏处。”

    在去年的一本畅销书《重来》(Rework)中,37信号公司(37 Signals)联合创始人贾森•弗莱德与戴维•海涅迈尔•汉森抱怨,有些人“指望靠单纯投入时间来解决问题……结果却拿不出什么好办法。”他们在书中写道:“工作狂并不是英雄。他们不是在节约时间,而是在耗时间。真正的英雄已经回到家中,因为她已经找到了更快捷的方法去完成工作。”

一个神奇的数字

    布隆伯格、弗莱德和汉森都是成功人士,到底谁说的对呢?到目前为止,围绕这个问题还没有太多的数据。不过,哈佛商学院(Harvard Business School)、伦敦经济学院(London School of Economics)和其他研究机构的研究人员近期正在开展一个CEO时间使用项目,目的是弄清楚工作时间与成功之间的确切关系。该项目借助CEO的私人助理们保存的时间记录,跨越文化的差异,旨在确定CEO的时间使用与公司业绩之间的关系。

    目前只取得了一些大公司的意大利籍CEO们的相关数据。但是哈佛大学的拉菲拉•萨顿表示:“我们发现,CEO在工作中投入的时间与公司的生产力(被称为‘员工人均营运收入’)以及公司的盈利能力确实存在密切的关系。”CEO的工作时间每增加一个百分点,公司的生产效率便可提高2.14个百分点。

    这是不是就证明,布隆伯格的观点正确,因此我们都应该延长工作时间呢?

    那可未必。首先,萨顿和她的同事们发现,CEO利用额外工作时间的方式不同,所获得的生产效率也存在较大差异。与员工会面可以获得更高的生产效率。但与顾问或其他外部人员会面则无法实现这一效果。

    而且,与许多高管们想象的不同,这些意大利籍CEO们并不是一周所有时间都在从事繁重的工作。每额外工作一个小时确实能提高公司业绩,但这并不值得大惊小怪,因为该项研究显示,CEO们每周的平均工作时间只有48个小时。

    的确,这只是私人助理们所掌握的工作时间。萨顿说,“我们没有找到周末仍在工作,或者在家工作的例子。”

    但是,如果CEO们周末或晚间仍有电话会议、工作晚餐或者演讲,助理们不会不知情。萨顿说:“我并不想说,意大利人都是懒骨头。”她自己就是一名意大利人。针对美国CEO们的试探性分析显示,美国CEO们工作的时间更长。但是,我们必须记住一点,当今世界竞争激烈,那些意大利人能成为大公司的高层,本身足以证明他们的成功,即便他们每周仅仅工作48个小时。总体而言,鉴于他们职位的重要性,他们不可能白白虚度20、30或者40个小时的工作时间。这也意味着,收益递减点应该非常接近48个小时。

    美国也有类似的证据来证明这一观点,尽管美国人声称自己工作的时间更长。时间使用的研究里有一个不太光彩的小秘密,那就是很多人都会撒谎,这也是为什么萨顿和她的团队采用了助理的记录,而不是当事人自己报告的时间使用情况。美国马里兰大学(University of Maryland)的社会学家约翰•罗宾逊进行的一项分析曾经将预估的工作时间与时间日志进行对比,结果发现,宣称自己每周工作70、80个小时甚至更长时间的人,平均工作时间实际上还不到60个小时。

加班价值几何?

    卡拉•弗朗丝表示,对某些人来说,即使每周工作60个小时也可能已经超出了其收益递减点。卡拉•弗朗丝目前担任Sage咨询顾问公司(Sage Consulting Associates)的首席执行官,该公司位于美国旧金山市,拥有65名员工。

    弗朗丝的目标是,每周工作40个小时甚至更少,部分原因是她希望多陪陪自己年仅5岁的双胞胎。她认为自己的收益递减点差不多刚好是40个小时。

    她说:“每周工作65个小时与每周工作40个小时相比,干的活一定更多吗?确实如此。但是,你能接受多工作25个小时吗?不能。那么10个小时呢?或许吧。”

    她说,其实连这一点她也不能确定。以往的职业经历中,她也曾经工作过更长的时间。“不得不说,这种递减非常惊人。”

    戴维•莱斯曼对这种说法也非常赞同。他目前担任Leed’s公司的副总裁,公司主要生产促销用品。他每天工作9到10个小时,并且希望下属也能跟他一样。他说,最后一两个小时“工作效率确实很高——能多干很多活。可是,大约十个小时之后,我的状态就开始下滑,思维也变得不那么敏捷。”

无尽的工作日是一种诱惑

    你肯定也发现了——人们在公司里订餐,在工位之间往返穿梭,他们显然并不是在做什么有效的工作。或者,即使他们已经回到家中,也整晚开着黑莓(Blackberry),连每次起床去洗手间的时候都要快速查看一下,尽管在手机屏幕中出现重要信息的几率几乎是零。如果你甚至用不着去办公室的话,轻而易举就会超过收益递减点。

    施乐公司(Xerox)的首席营销官克里斯塔•卡罗恩曾经引用了一段话来表达类似的意思。她在一封电子邮件中写道:“工作不再是一个场所,而是一种心态。重要的不在于我什么时间关掉办公室的灯,而在于我什么时间关掉(至少,在心理上)收件箱。”

    与理性经济学相比,心理学与这种现象的关系更大。在竞争激烈的环境里,工作并不稳定,由于担心错失良机,人们往往倾向于忽视理性的方法。

    梅丽莎•格施泰因与其他两位广播电台记者共同创办了《都市辣妈》(Moms and The City)节目。该节目在许多城市的NBC电视台上播放,纽约市的出租车电视上也会转播部分内容。她每天早上5:30起床,直到凌晨还在回复电子邮件,这样的日程安排令她筋疲力尽,尽管如此,她还是担心自己的工作时间低于收益递减点。

    格施泰因说:“品牌初创期几乎不可能拒绝任何事情。一有机会出现,就想充分利用。”

    这就意味着,即使在上芭蕾课或者推着孩子逛街的时候,她和合作伙伴们也在查看邮件、拨打电话。尽管新媒体的出现为她的节目推广创造了不少机会,但她偶尔也会觉得身心俱疲。她说:“有时候,我很怀念过去的美好时光。那时,一切都非常简单。”

    并非只有她有这种想法,但是有些人已经在采取行动,试图重建那个更简单的世界,即使别人不会这么干。卡拉•弗朗丝就是其中一位,下班之后,她就不会再去查看电子邮件。她说:“上班的时候,我会全力以赴。但是,下班之后,我就不再考虑工作的事情。”令她感到欣慰的是,到目前为止,公司业务并未因此受到影响。从2009年到2010年,Sage的收入翻了一番。近期,该公司还被Inc杂志评为增长最快的5000强私营企业之一。看来,她的时间没有白费。

    In an uncertain job market, fortunate people with steady paying gigs often think twice before shutting down for the day. But is\ there any benefit to responding to those additional emails or hanging around the office for that extra hour? Is there a weekly hour sweet spot?

    It's a tricky question. One hour per week is too little to do a job well, and 168 -- the total number of hours in a week -- isn't right either. Such a sleep-deprived person would be non-functional (not to mention smelly from a lack of showering).

    The answer must be somewhere in the middle; a point of diminishing returns where previous hours boost productivity by a large margin, and additional work hours wouldn't help much. But what amount of hours could that be?

    In a competitive economy where people still value their family and leisure time, figuring out the answer could give businesses a strategic advantage, so it's no surprise that plenty of people have conflicting opinions on the matter.

    New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg tells graduates in his usual commencement address that "it never hurts to be the first one in in the morning -- and the last one to leave."

    In last year's bestselling book Rework, 37 Signals co-founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson complain about people who "try to fix problems by throwing sheer hours at them.... This results in inelegant solutions." Workaholics "aren't heroes," they write. "They don't save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done."

So, what's the magic number?

    Bloomberg, Fried and Hansson are all successful people, so who's right? Up until now, there hasn't been too much data surrounding this question, but researchers at Harvard Business School, the London School of Economics and other institutions have recently begun an ongoing CEO Time Use Project to figure out exactly how work hours relate to success. Using time logs kept by CEOs' personal assistants, and looking across different cultures, the study asks how CEO time use corresponds with a company's performance.

    At this point, data is only available from a group of Italian CEOs of large firms. But according to Harvard's Raffaella Sadun, "we found this very strong correlation between the number of hours spent at work by a CEO and the productivity of the firm" (defined as revenue per employee) "and also the profitability of the firm." Every one percentage point rise in hours worked meant firm productivity rose by 2.14 percentage points.

    Does that mean Bloomberg is right and we should all work more hours?

    Not necessarily. First, Sadun and her colleagues found a big difference in productivity based on how a CEO spent those additional hours. Meeting with employees correlated with more productivity. Meeting with consultants or other outsiders did not.

    And the Italian CEOs didn't turn out to be working what many executives would consider a taxing workweek. Each additional hour boosted performance, but that's not too surprising given that the average CEO in the study was only logging 48 hours per week.

    Granted, these were only working hours that the personal assistants knew about, and so, to a degree, "we don't get people who worked over the weekend or worked at home," says Sadun.

    But an assistant would know about a CEO's weekend or evening conference call, a dinner or a speech. "I don't want to say Italians are lazy," says Sadun, who is Italian. Tentative analysis of American CEOs shows they may be working a few more hours. But keep in mind that these Italians working 48 hours a week were successful enough to be leading large companies in a competitive world. As a group, it's unlikely that they would be leaving a full 20, 30 or 40 productive hours on the table, given the stakes. That implies that perhaps the point of diminishing returns is not too far above that.

    There's evidence this may be true in the U.S. as well, even when people claim to be working longer hours. A dirty little secret of time use research is that people lie, a lot, which is one reason Sadun and her team rely on assistants' records rather than self-reported time use. One analysis comparing estimated workweeks with time diaries conducted by sociologist John Robinson of the University of Maryland found that the average person claiming to work 70, 80 or more hours per week was logging less than 60.

How valuable are the extra hours?

    Even 60 hours may be past the point of diminishing returns for some people, according to Cara France, CEO of Sage Consulting Associates, a 65-person consulting firm based in the San Francisco area.

    France's goal is to work 40 hours a week or less, in part to spend time with her 5-year-old twins. She calculates 40 hours as almost exactly her point of diminishing returns.

    "If you work 65 hours vs. work 40 hours, will you get more done? Yes," she says. "But will you get 25 more hours done? No. Will you get 10 more hours? Maybe."

    But even that isn't certain, she says. Having worked longer hours in past professional projects, "I'd say the diminishment is gargantuan."

    David Lassman, vice president of operations at Leed's, which makes promotional products, agrees. He works a 9 to 10-hour day, and expects the same from his direct reports. The last hour or two is "just straight good productivity -- you get more from it," he says. "After about 10 hours, I start to lose my edge. My thought processes aren't as sharp."

The temptations of an endless workday

    You've seen it too -- people order food and flit from cubicle to cubicle, clearly not doing anything productive. Or else they go home, but leave the Blackberry on all night, sneaking a quick check when they get up to go to the bathroom, even though the chances of anything important appearing on the screen are roughly nil. It's all too easy to breeze past the point of diminishing returns when you don't even have to go into an office.

    Christa Carone, chief marketing officer at Xerox (XRX), recites a quote to that effect: "Work is no longer a place; it's a state of mind," she says in an email. "It's become less about when I turn off the office lights and more about when I turn off (at least, mentally) the inbox."

    This phenomenon has more to do with psychology than rational economics. In a competitive world where jobs aren't certain, it's tempting to disregard the rational approach out of fear of missing out.

    Melissa Gerstein is part of a team of three broadcast journalists launching Moms and The City, a show that airs on NBC in a few cities and also in segments on New York City's Taxi TV. Her schedule -- up at 5:30 a.m. and returning emails into the wee hours --- is grueling, but she worries she may still be working below the point of diminishing returns.

    "When you're an emerging brand, it's almost impossible to turn things down," Gerstein says. "You want to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself to you."

    That means she and her business partners check email and make calls while at ballet lessons or pushing strollers down the street. Though the rise of new media outlets has created opportunities to promote a new show like hers, sometimes, "I get overwhelmed…. Sometimes I miss the good old days when it was a lot simpler," she says.

    She's not alone, but others attempt to recreate that simpler world, even if no one else does. Cara France, for instance, doesn't check email after work. "When I'm on, I'm on, and when I'm off, I'm off," she says. So far, she's happy with what that means for her business. Sage doubled its revenue from 2009 to 2010 and recently made it onto Inc's list of the 5000 fastest growing private companies. Sounds like her time was well spent.

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