My last post on Jeff Pfeffer’s next book, What Were They Thinking? reminded me of Jeff’s recent research on how people in jobs where “time is money” fall into a trap: They start devoting more time to their jobs, and less time to “unpaid” activities like family, friends, and leisure. There is a splendid summary of this research on the Stanford Business School website, Time is Money When You are Paid by the Hour, “In a series of recent studies, Pfeffer and doctoral student Sanford E. DeVoe found that people who are used to being paid by the hour start thinking of time as a commodity almost equal to cash. And given the choice as to whether they’ll take time or green bills, they’ll usually take the latter—meaning they’re nearly always willing to put in more hours to get the pay.”
Writer Marguerite Rigoglioso quotes Pfeffer further: “Being paid by the hour causes people to endorse the idea that they’d rather make more money and spend more time at work,” says Pfeffer, the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior. “This shows how a commodified view of time spills over into how people view their personal and leisure time.”
“Once you’re paid by the hour,” he says, “you start placing a monetary value on that hour. The opportunity costs of not working become clearer. People gravitate toward things that are easier to evaluate, and it’s easier to figure out the value of a paid hour than it is, say, the value of an hour spent in a leisure activity. So they chose work over play.”
and DeVoe also review related research, including one study that found “lawyers
watching their kids play soccer admitted to mentally ticking away lost income
for each minute they stood on the sidelines.”
Ouch… I feel sorry for both the kids and the parents.
Unfortunately, many professional service firms – especially those like law firms that bill by the hour – systematically weed out people who don’t think and act this way, as they are less “profitable.” This is the kind of research that gives me chills and makes me wonder if a little less “productivity” might be a good thing at times.