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2003 December 02 Tuesday
Stephen Roach: White Collar Work Week Longer Than Reported

Morgan Stanley chief economist Stephen Roach, casting doubt on recent figures which show large rises in worker productivity, says financial services workers are putting in more hours than are reported.

For example, in financial services, the Labor Department tells us that the average workweek has been unchanged, at 35.5 hours, since 1988. That's patently absurd. Courtesy of a profusion of portable information appliances (laptops, cell phones, personal digital assistants, etc.), along with near ubiquitous connectivity (hard-wired and now increasingly wireless), most information workers can toil around the clock. The official data don't come close to capturing this cultural shift.

As a result, we are woefully underestimating the time actually spent on the job. It follows, therefore, that we are equally guilty of overestimating white-collar productivity. Productivity is not about working longer. It's about getting more value from each unit of work time. The official productivity numbers are, in effect, mistaking work time for leisure time.

His argument correlates with what we see happening around us. Lots of people talk on their cell phones about work-related matters while doing their driving commutes. E-mails about work matters flow at all hours of the day and night. People go on vacation and keep track of business events using cell phones. Faxes flow in to home fax machines. Though these changes do not affect all kinds of work. Still, there are plenty of people who do all their work and work-related communications while at the office. Roach's own position as a chief economist at a major brokerage firm is untypical. Some types of jobs require that by their very nature. In other cases where people interact with computers the employers do not allow access to corporate database access applications from off-premises sites.

How much has your own work bled over into your non-work life as a result of advances in communications and computing technology? How much of that change is voluntary on your part and how much is being pushed on you by your employer, customers or vendors?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 December 02 12:18 PM  Economics Political


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Comments
Ilya Veksler said at December 21, 2003 8:26 AM:

Even office hours are undercounted. My employer stopped compensating for overtime about a year and a half ago. A few months ago we were prohibited from even recording any overtime in our timecards, while we are routinely working 50-60 hour workweeks. This is what is fueling the "productivity gains".


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