5 Questions with Steve Paulone: Balancing workplace productivity, flexibility and employee satisfaction

1. Several high-level workers across the Unites States are searching for alternatives to the traditional 9-to-5 work day, with some business experts predicting that the “full-time” employee may be a thing of the past. What do you feel are the benefits and pitfalls of a non-traditional work schedule?

A “non-traditional” work schedule has always existed whether it is the second/third shift worker, the scheduling of workers in 24/7, 365 roles like hospitals or the hiring of part-time workers. There has been a trend in recent years to accelerate the adoption of these non-traditional roles in all organizations due to initiatives to lower costs or meet changing demographics. The lowering of costs has two parts associated with this: flexible hiring and astronomical increases in benefits mainly due to healthcare. The flexibility in hiring is concurrent with the rise of the contingent worker who you can hire on a project-by-project basis which changes the fixed costs of employees to the variable costs of business. The ‘virtual organization’ works to lower costs and grant workers the ability to be entrepreneurs (their own bosses).The benefit increase is offset by keeping workers as part-time (less than 30 hours a week). Current employment rules allow organizations to not pay benefits to part-time workers.

Woman typing on computer. 2. Some businessmen are calling for a three-day work week, with extended daily hoursto increase productivity. Is there a more productive approach, in your opinion, than the current 9-to-5 structure?

It really depends on the location of the organization and the organization itself as well as the nature of the job. If I can hire a person to work three ten-hour days, as opposed to a five-day forty hour a week position, I can then lower my benefit costs. The cost of office space can also be lowered, since I can now have people sharing spaces, and lower commuting congestion in some urban areas. The difficulty comes in with the expertise of the person and the role they are performing in the organization. In a highly specialized role you can have more flexibility – in a generalist role you may run into difficulties coordinating the work output due to inequality of workers abilities or efficiency in role sharing.

3. Americans took fewer vacation days in 2013 than in the past four decades, forfeiting nearly $52.5 billion in time-off benefits. Over a quarter of the workers surveyed said they’ve declined to take days off in order to illustrate their dedication to the job. Should this be a reason to forfeit vacation days, and what else may contribute to this trend?

Americans have always had an aversion to taking vacation like it is unearned or indicates you are lazy. Our European counterparts have always thought that we are crazy. I know I have not taken a full vacation day in years. This is all because of ubiquitous communication methods like texting and email and the expectations of co-workers and supervisors.

4. Some studies have shown that fewer vacation days counter intuitively lead to decreased productivity. Why do you think this is? What may be the best way for an employer to reverse this trend?

I believe employers are now seeing the benefit of workers taking their vacation time to recharge, reflect and reconnect with the positive things about their job. Being on vacation does not mean you are disconnected and not working – you just may be doing work in a different location and method than usual. We are so rushed with normal day-to-day obligations and meetings that the time to mull things over and really think is missing. Rashness leads to inefficiency, mistakes and, over time, employee burnout.

5. What tips would you offer for an improved work-life balance for the American worker?

The first thing you need to do is establish your priorities. The thought that we ‘can have it all’ is not correct. There are unlimited obligations we have in life and limited time. Sacrifices must be made every time we make a decision on how we will spend our time. The idea that we can dual process or multi-task is mistaken. When we do not focus we can do things, but not do them well. Once you come to grips with your priorities then it is easy to make decisions as to how you spend your time and how you balance your life. If the organization you work for cannot understand or work with you once you have established your priorities, then you know you need to move on and find an organization or work that will allow you to meet your obligations. We all need to recognize when we are unhappy, since when we are unhappy we do no one any good at all – our family will suffer, our work will suffer and our life will be unbalanced.

Stephen Paulone, Ph.D. is the Director of Graduate Business Programs offered through the Malcolm Baldrige School of Business at Post University. He has more than 25 years of experience in manufacturing, marketing, and finance, and has held such positions as marketing manager, manager of new product development, marketing program manager and finance director. 

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