Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Non-linear relation of the day

There is a modern ethic that more and harder work is always an unbounded good.  But this perspective piece argues that too much pressure can actually reduce outcomes:
When knowledge workers are pressed too hard, the intimate connection between workers and their work is compromised and many things go wrong. Stress and anxiety harm mental health and, hence, performance. Competition rises and team cohesion—a major source of productivity gains—declines. Animosity may develop among staff, or between staff (who feel exploited) and management. Overworked workers take on extra tasks and pay a task-switching productivity penalty that DeMarco estimates at 15%, minimum. And it isn't just average productivity that declines; it is also peak productivity, those rare moments of transcendence when important breakthroughs are made.
Simply assuming a linear relation between effort and output seems like a dangerous assumption, and one that leads to bad policy.  It's also worth noting that we'd prefer to be on the other side of the productivity/pressure curve if we wanted to accept this lower productivity -- happy, unstressed workers tend to be easily retained by an employer.  But unhappy/stressed workers and low productivity seems like a bad trade. 

h/t: Mike


  1. Jorge Cham has a graph: