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Good Intensity

"To get more done, we need to stop working so much," writes Sue Shellenbarger in the Wall Street Journal (9/23/09). Sue is speaking from her own experience, as well as based on the results of a study by Harvard researchers of "12 consulting teams at Boston Consulting Group." For the experiment, consultants were required to take time off on a regular, predictable basis each week, which in itself created stress for some of the subjects. They were sure this would hinder their job performance, but of course it was just the opposite.

What they found was that, because they had to work together to make sure everybody took time off, the teams were forced "to communicate better, share more information and forge closer relationships. They also had to do a better job at planning ahead and streamlining work, which in some cases resulted in improved client service, based on interviews with clients." Debbie Lovitch, a consultant on one of the teams, said that knowing you were taking time off put greater focus on the work "because if you know a night off is coming up, you’re not going to let things spike out of control."

After five months, the consultants reported being "more satisfied with their jobs and work-life balance, and more likely to stay with the firm, compared with consultants who weren’t part of the experiment." According to Leslie Perlow, the Harvard professor who led the study, the idea is to eliminate "bad intensity", or "a feeling of having no time truly free from work, no control over work and no opportunity to clarify foggy priorities." Indeed, a survey by Human Resources Management "found that 70 percent of employees work beyond scheduled time and on weekends; more than half blame ‘self-imposed pressure.’"