Are ‘Quiet Hours’ a Good Idea?

By Dori Meinert Sep 1, 2012
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September Cover​​You've been trying to finish that report for several days, only to be interrupted time and again by co-workers and clients who need your help. You're ready to propose a companywide policy mandating quiet hours or an "interruption-free" period each day.

Be careful what you wish for.

While time management experts propose quiet hours as a way to get work done, researchers in Switzerland and Germany have found that quiet hours aren't as productive as you might think. In fact, scheduling quiet times actually harms the performance of those requesting help and those providing help, according to their recent study to be published in an upcoming issue of Applied Psychology.

The researchers divided 168 undergraduates at the University of Konstanz, Germany, into pairs of helpers and requesters. Each partner watched a different movie and had a script of the movie watched by his or her partner. Afterward, they had 30 minutes at separate computers to answer as many questions as they could about the movies. In one scenario, the requesters could ask questions of their partners whenever they liked. In another, those providing help could choose to block interruptions for periods totaling half the work time.

The results surprised researchers. "The helper's performance was actually lower with interruption-free time spans than in the condition with interruptions at any time," the researchers wrote, theorizing that the helpers were distracted by the scheduling process.

Helpers who alternated more frequently between interrupted and noninterrupted times performed worse, the researchers found. More control over interruptions may hamper performance "unless it is combined with educating those in control about how to use it wisely," they concluded.

The South Lags In High-Wage, High-Skill Jobs

The South is a decade behind the rest of the country in the proportion of high-wage, high-skill, high-demand jobs that require postsecondary education, according to a study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

By 2020, 65 percent of jobs nationally will require some form of postsecondary education and training, the study projects. Only three areas in the South will meet or beat the national average: Washington, D.C., at 76 percent; Virginia, at 68 percent; and Maryland, at 66 percent. The remaining 14 states in the southern region will fall below that level.

Today, some 59 percent of all jobs nationally require postsecondary education and training, compared with 54 percent in the South. But the South won't reach 59 percent until 2020—10 years behind the rest of the nation, according to Georgetown researchers Anthony P. Carnevale and Nicole Smith in their report, A Decade Behind: Breaking Out of the Low-Skill Trap in the Southern Economy.

While the number of jobs in the South is projected to grow by 20 percent in this decade compared to 17 percent for the nation, they predict the jobs will tend to be lower-skilled, lower-paying positions.

By 2020, the demand for postsecondary education within occupations is forecast to grow at an average annualized rate of 0.6 percent for the South compared with 1 percent for the nation, the study found.

values-Based Companies Outpace Others

Fewer than one in 30 companies are "self-governing," meaning they are based on trust, values and a common commitment to purpose.

Those rare few are more likely to beat the competition by showing greater innovation, stronger employee loyalty and better financial performance, according to an LRN analysis of data gathered from more than 36,000 employees at all levels in 18 countries and released in May. In addition, such companies achieve higher levels of customer satisfaction and lower levels of employee misconduct.

"This report suggests strongly that doing the right thing really pays off," says David Greenberg, executive vice president of LRN, an organization that helps companies develop values-based corporate cultures.

The data used in LRN's analysis was independently gathered by the Boston Consulting Group in collaboration with Research Data Technology and The Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California.

While only 3 percent of companies are self-governing, 43 percent use operational methods that researchers described as "blind obedience," characterized by top-down leadership and coercion. Another 54 percent operate under systems of "informed acquiescence," where managers rely on performance-based rewards to motivate people and where long-term goals often are forsaken for short-term success.

But those methods don't work in today's hyperconnected world. "We are more interdependent," Greenberg says. "And the power of one individual for good or bad has been magnified."

Trust Drives Productivity

A manager's investment in developing a trusting relationship with subordinates goes beyond maintaining a harmonious working relationship, according to researchers from the University of Maryland and Singapore Management University.

"Such trust adds value to organizations in terms of producing meaningful and powerful momentum, which drives employees' job performance," according to Alex Ning Li, a doctoral business student at the University of Maryland, and Hwee Hoon Tan, an associate professor at Singapore Management University.

They analyzed survey results from 206 employees and their managers from a large commercial bank in China.

"By obtaining trust from followers, leaders activate the fundamental psychological forces sustaining employees' job activities and create an environment facilitating productivity in the workplace," they wrote in an article to be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

The trust transfers to job performance in two ways, they say. Employees who trust their superiors have more confidence to do their work and less uncertainty about expressing themselves.

Earlier research focused on trust in middle and top management. But trust in direct supervisors leads to more-direct impact on performance because direct supervisors are more closely involved in employees' daily tasks and assignments, the authors of this study concluded.

"If trust operates by conserving unnecessary energy expended, we argue that trust between parties who have to interact closely is better able to prevent misallocation of finite personal resources," they wrote.​

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