Bricks and Mortar

I haven’t got time for that!

I was out recently with a group of friends, all of whom bright, successful people, well respected in their fields. You could describe them all as being at the top of their respective games. One of them, a university academic, commented that although she really enjoys her job, over the last few years she’s noticed that every day in work she feels like everything is now rushed.

She described the various different activities she might be engaged in during any one particular day. Lecturing to students, research proposals, data gathering, meetings with colleagues and other stakeholders, etc. How they all seemed to happen at break-neck speed with no gaps in between. No thinking time, often no lunch or coffee beaks and sometimes barely even time to go to the bathroom. Even the seemingly essential activity (for being a research academic) of being able to sit and give some deep and concentrated thought to her field of expertise was no longer something she had the time to do.

You Are Not Alone

To my surprise, every other person around the table then commented that in their own organisations it was exactly the same story. Lawyers, medics, teachers, IT specialists, project managers, financiers, engineers, all confirmed that their working days were full-on, non-stop, breath-if-you-can-fit-it-in events.

So far, so 21st-century workplace right?

The problem with it is this. What if people no longer feel they have the time to think deeply about their work because they have to be constantly ‘doing’ the work? What’s happened to all the little bits of the working day that aren’t strictly work, the bits that make the working day (or a lifetime of working days) bearable? Humans are not drones. We are not cogs in a machine. We can’t run at top speed without breaks for the duration of our time in work.

Bricks and Mortar

Think of the actual productive stuff that you do during your working day as ‘bricks’. Then think of the filler stuff (quick non-work related chats with colleagues, sorting out your car insurance, planning a holiday, staring out of the window for 5 minutes) as ‘mortar’. When seen like that, it seems most jobs now have a perilously small amount of mortar holding all the bricks together.

What’s happened is that in an effort to maximise efficiency and raise productivity, the demands made on our workforce have grown and grown. Targets and deadlines are all higher and tighter, budgets are trimmed and staff numbers kept to a bare minimum. Result: The bricks still get laid but there’s hardly any mortar to hold them together. And you don’t have to be Bob the Builder to know what the likely result of that is.

So my plea to business leaders, managers and corporate decision-makers is this. If you want to build a strong organisation, one that can outlast your competitors, give your employees time for the mortar as well as the bricks.

Got some suggestions as to how your organisation could create some time for the ‘mortar’? Why not share them by commenting below.

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