2007 – Most productive days
New research from the Centre for Economic Performance suggests
that Tuesday may be the most productive day of the week
with the longest number of daily hours worked on average.
This should come as no surprise to managements that have
grown used to the Monday blues and the early weekenders
who disappear after Friday lunch.
But it might promote some new thinking about work schedules,
particularly among those who believe that work should be
something that runs like a smooth production line.
I recall a meeting some years ago with a new chief executive
who was dabbling in news production for the first time.
A few journalists among the round-table were trying to explain
some of the mysteries of newspaper organisation. One of
them, who now heads an economic think tank, argued that
news could not be produced like tins of beans on a conveyor
The chief executive was not convinced. Surely stories,
he said, could be delivered and sub-edited in a steady stream
throughout the day. The workflow simply needed to be managed.
But how do you replicate the productive energy created through
fear of missing a deadline? You can try bringing deadlines
forward but this might interfere with an individual’s
ability to work effectively. Besides, unless a deadline
is clearly creating some productive advantage, people are
unlikely to respond to an artificial demand.
The findings of the CEP report* suggest that it is not
only news that resists attempts to impose a uniformity of
supply. Working rhythms are influenced by the demands of
different sectors. In the hotel and restaurant sectors,
for example, weekends account for relatively large shares
of working time.
Jobs themselves have peaks and troughs throughout a day.
In public transport the peaks are during the rush hours.
Shops can easily distinguish their busiest times from the
levels of their takings on various days.
The report’s authors Alex Bryson and John Forth believe
that employers could respond to their findings by creating
greater flexibility in work schedules. Policy makers could
look again at the timing of bank holidays, possibly shifting
Monday bank holidays to a Friday, the least productive day
of the week.
The so-called “Saint Monday” phenomenon was
noticeable in the early days of factory production as some
people, unused to regulated shift patterns, tried to prolong
their weekends while others who turned up for work did not
put much effort in to the job, leading to anecdotal references
in the motor industry to any production model with a chronic
breakdown record as a “Monday car.”
The answer to lower production levels on a Monday, however,
should not be to write it off. At my youngest son’s
school they start the autumn term on a Thursday so no-one
needs to work too hard before the weekend. This seems a
silly policy. No sooner are the kids back after the holiday
than they have a break again.
In theory Mondays should be highly productive days since
most people have had the chance to rest, particularly if
they treat Sunday as a special day. The Pope has been appealing
for people to renew their respect for Sundays. His argument,
that devoting some time to contemplation on a Sunday, is
important in western economies that have lost touch with
While shifting bank holidays from Mondays to Fridays might
receive some support in business, a proposal for yet another
day’s holiday - this time on the Monday after Remembrance
Sunday – is being resisted by private sector employers.
The Institute for Public Policy Research wants a day to
recognise what it calls “community heroes” but
the Confederation of British Industry says it would cost
the economy £6bn. I would like to see a break-down
of its calculations.
Financial concerns are thought to be behind the decision
of the Scottish Nationalist Party to water down its proposal
to declare a public holiday in Scotland on St Andrew’s
Day. Instead, staff at the Scottish Executive directorate
are being given the chance to exchange an existing half
day’s holiday for half a day off on St Andrew’s
Day. The Scottish Chambers of Commerce had estimated that
an extra day off in Scotland would cost £400m in lost
If these days off are so costly, how much are businesses
losing when employees take time out during the working day?
An architect friend told me he was horrified when walking
around his practice at the number of staff he found visiting
the Facebook social networking site.
“Nobody was doing any work. They were all busy posting
messages on Facebook,” he said. He is not alone in
his observations. A survey of 600 respondents by Sophos,
an internet security company, found that nearly half of
the businesses it questioned had banned employee access
to the site because it was wasting too much office time.
Others had imposed partial restrictions.
I wondered how long it would take before we heard of an
employer backlash against social networking. The phenomenon
is proving too popular and too addictive to be ignored by
managers, some of whom have become members of these sites
and some of whom are well acquainted with the perils of
electronic addiction via their Blackberry handsets.
But if these same managers are happy to let their teams
work through part of their mid-day break, sitting at their
desks with sandwiches, should they move so swiftly to outlaw
this new craze? Like all crazes, it will find its level.
The most important thing is that staff members continue
to deliver the workloads expected of them. As TUC general
secretary, Brendan Barber has said, a blanket crackdown
on such sites by employers is an overreaction.
More enterprising managers might explore the potential
of social networking sites for improving workforce performance.
Instead of tinkering around with expensive intranets they
could exploit these web sites for workplace communications.
T-Mobile, the mobile phone company, has invited its new
graduate intake, starting work this month, to join a Facebook
group where they can swap telephone numbers and get to know
each other before they start. The graduates have been using
the group since their initial appointment in May to discuss
issues such as relocation and some have organised meetings
together, even house shares, ahead of taking up their jobs.
I heard of one manager who is using a Facebook-based group
to draw comments about his own performance from members
of his team. Whether or not this proves to be a good idea,
at least the manager is showing a willingness to experiment
and to engage with the interests of his younger colleagues.
Having discussed the site with friends, many of whom are
older managers, I know that one of their issues is ignorance.
They simply do not know how to navigate these sites so they
dismiss them as an irrelevance. That’s a mistake.
*Manpower Human Resources Lab Briefing Paper: Bad Timing:
Are Workers More Productive on Certain Days of the Week?
Available online here:
See also: Distractions