lifestyle

"Cut the crap and get on with the business of being truly productive."

‘In Australia, we seem stuck in our unproductive ways.’

Returning to work after becoming a mother was a total game-changer for me. Something happened to my mind and it had nothing to do with ‘baby brain’. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

My thinking became sharper, focusing on the things that mattered. I pushed myself to do the best and most efficient job possible so I could leave work at a reasonable time to go home and be with my child.

Mamamia’s Jamila Rizvi discusses returning to work after having a baby:

I became intolerant towards anything that wasted my time. No longer could I stomach long lunches, political whisperings over coffee or lengthy aimless meetings. Instead, I focused on making a real impact so I could walk out the door at 5pm guilt-free.

Was I praised or recognised for my newfound addiction to productivity? Nope. In fact, I received quite the opposite.

I was taken off a project when I asked for meetings to be scheduled during regular office hours instead of in the evening. I was told to make ‘more effort’ to travel for meetings instead of conducting them via videoconference.

But the final nail in my career coffin came when I asked to work a four-day week so I could spend just a little more time with my son. For this, nearly half of my key responsibilities were handed to another team member.

Business conference with laptops. Businesswoman typing. Taken on event Oh-la-la'lypse Marseille, 2007. [url=http://www.istockphoto.com/file_search.php?action=file&lightboxID=4973850][/url] [url=http://www.istockphoto.com/file_search.php?action=file&lightboxID=4755063][/url]

The message was loud and clear: if you want us to take you seriously, you need to make yourself more available. And here lies the problem with the concept of ‘productivity’: not all of us see it the same way.

Productivity can be an archaic and subjective notion used by managers to control their team’s availability and physical presence. A skewed version of commitment that rewards people for the number of hours they are willing and able to sacrifice from their personal lives, rather than their actual output.

I’ve seen this version of productivity lobbed like a grenade into online debates about workplace flexibility, especially for women who wish to re-enter the workforce after having children.

“When you leave early to pick up your kids, spare a thought for the rest of us who have to stay behind and pick up your slack,” is the common complaint I read.

But what exactly is that slack? There is a growing body of research that claims working longer days does not necessarily mean you deliver much more for your employers than your colleagues who work shorter days. Some research goes further, suggesting it is humanly impossible to be genuinely productive for eight hours straight.

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Companies in Sweden and America leading the charge to implement shorter working days claim they see no drop in workplace productivity when they reduced their standard working day from eight-hour days to six. Instead they report increased levels of loyalty and retention, as well as motivation, innovation and creativity.

Young creative woman sitting in the office and working on a computer.
In many organisations, workplace cultural expectations drive employees to work well beyond the boundaries of what should be expected.

In some cases, shorter working days have been attributed to phenomenal growth. American stand-up paddleboard company Shark Tank reduced its working day to five hours (staff salaries remained unchanged) while introducing more efficient ways of working at the same time. In 2014 they were named San Diego’s fastest growing private company, experiencing 1000% growth in only two years.

Meanwhile, back in Australia, we seem stuck in our unproductive ways. Under the Fair Work Act 2009 an employer must not request or require a full-time employee to work more than 38 hours a week. But in many organisations, workplace cultural expectations drive employees to work well beyond this boundary.

But not me. Several years ago I opted out of permanent full-time employment in favour of short-term consulting contracts and freelance work. I now structure my professional hours between 9am – 3pm, with the school pick-up deadline my greatest motivator.

I figure I’d much rather spend time with my children than stare at my navel during yet another long-winded and unnecessary meeting. So that means there is no time to waste, no navels to gaze; I need to get on with the job of proving my worth to my clients. Delivering them the most productively rich hours possible, in return for their flexibility.

In the past 10 years the number of female sole traders have increased by 25% as opposed to male sole traders who have increased only by 1%. Seems there are many other women like me who are keen to cut the crap and get on with the job of being truly productive.

To companies who were willing to let them go I say: your loss.

When Lisa Lintern had her first child she realised the corporate world was no longer the place for her. She now works as a successful freelance communications strategist and writer and hasn’t looked back. You can find her at www.lisalintern.com.au or follow her on twitter @lisa_lintern

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