Podcast: Optimal Busyness? Let’s Ask An Expert

The Busyness Paradox Episode #37: Optimal Busyness? Let’s Ask An Expert

Excessive busyness is bad, especially when you don’t have enough of it. Not gonna lie, even we at “The Busyness Paradox” didn’t see that busyness paradox coming. Two researchers in France did, however, and we’re  joined by one of them! Dr. Ioana Lupu’s recently-published study shows how our relentless pursuit of “optimal busyness” – that euphoric, Goldilocks state of productivity that exists between being underworked and overwhelmed, and always seems juuust out of reach – can lead us down the path of burnout. Tune in to hear her insights on what employers and employees can do to avoid this sad fate and share your own thoughts with us at input@busynessparadox.com.

People, Papers and Paul’s Obscure French Film Recommendations in this Episode:

00:26 – Dr. Ioana Lupu, ESSEC Business School

00:45 – Dr. Joonas Rokka, emlyon Business School 

00:46 – Feeling in Control: Optimal Busyness and the Temporality of Organizational Controls

22:23 – Episode #22: The Efficiency Paradox

44:20 – Ressources Humaines (Human Resources)

Episode Transcript:

Frank Butler 0:17
Hello Busybodies, welcome to another episode of the Busyness Paradox. I’m Frank Butler here with Paul Harvey.

Paul Harvey 0:23
Good day, Frank and good day Ioana.

Frank Butler 0:26
Yes, we have a special guest today Ioana Lupu from, actually she’s in France. We’re very excited to have her. But remember folks: rate, subscribe. Tell your friends about us. But today we are super excited because we have the person who’s written the paper on busyness, literally.

Paul Harvey 0:45
Optimal busyness

Frank Butler 0:46
Optimal busyness! super excited about this whole thing. Couple real quick point outs. This paper is the latest one that’s being published in organization science, which if you’re not an academic, this is one of our biggies. It’s one of our top top journals fantastic. Paper title is “Feeling In Control: Optimal Busyness And The Temporality Of Organizational Controls.” Ioana Lupu and then, was it Joonas Roca or junus, is it?

Paul Harvey 1:14

Frank Butler 1:14
Yep. Figured it was a silent J. They’re more Y. But again, they’ve published this paper and Ioana actually found us and send it to us looking for busyness paradoxes, sort of something you wanted to write about in the future, right?

Paul Harvey 1:19
And discover there’s a podcast about it, apparently.

Frank Butler 1:28
That’s right. So very excited. Anyway, thanks for joining us. Ioana , how are you doing today?

Ioana Lupu 1:34
Hi, everybody. And thank you very much Frank and Paul, for inviting me. It’s a pleasure to be here. I’m fine. Yeah. I’m here from or close to Paris. It’s 4pm in the afternoon.

Paul Harvey 1:47
10am here.

Frank Butler 1:48
That’s right.

Paul Harvey 1:49
How’s the…how’s the pandemic been going over there? Having a good pandemic?

Ioana Lupu 1:53
Ah, the tough question. I think it’s getting better. Yeah, I hear we definitely see the end of the tunnel.

Paul Harvey 2:01

Ioana Lupu 2:02
I just hope it’s not going to we’re not going to have another time.

Frank Butler 2:06

Paul Harvey 2:07

Frank Butler 2:08
Fingers crossed.

Paul Harvey 2:09
We’ve said that before, haven’t we?

Frank Butler 2:12
Just as a quick aside, everybody Ioana is actually originally from Romania? Correct.

Paul Harvey 2:16
Yeah, Bucharest, I believe.

Ioana Lupu 2:18
That’s right

Frank Butler 2:18
Bucharest, and she’s actually gone and gotten her education in a different place. She was in England for a bit. She’s now working in France. And that’s pretty exciting like that, in itself. I just find exciting. And I’m sure a lot of that has sort of set up the ideas that you’re that you kind of came up with for this paper, right? These experiences you’ve had in life

Paul Harvey 2:36
In different cultures and such. Yeah, it’d be interesting to hear some of the background of what led you to the study of busyness.

Ioana Lupu 2:42
Yeah, well, it all started with me getting some funding from the European Union to study work life balance, in the case of professional parents in London, and I got the scholarship and when I contacted a few firms, and I ended up conducting interviews in two large international firms, one law firm and one large audit and consulting firm in London, busyness, or let’s say, overwork temporary experiences, were not at all part of the, the initial research question. But during the first round of interviews, it became very obvious that temporal experiences, different perceptions of time, could vary between individuals, and in the case of one individual from one period to the other. And that’s how we became very much interested in busyness and busyness was a term that they kept using. You know, we kept hearing this in interviews. And so we started we decided to conduct another round of interviews with these professionals we interviewed initially, and we managed to interview two thirds of the professionals who initially interviewed So initially, we interviewed about about 60 people. And then in the second round of interviews, we managed to interview another 40 of the initial 60 people. And so we got could get into more depth and you know, these issues around time they’re temporarily experiencing and that’s how we came up with this term. We coined this term of optimal busyness, which we define as an attractive, short lived, temporary experience, that people try to reproduce or prolong because it makes them feel energized and productive as well as in control of their time. And we found out that they navigate between three main, let’s say temporary experiences, optimal business meetings. being one of them. But there were two other, let’s say suboptimal, temporary experiences, which we called Quiet time and excessive busyness.

Frank Butler 5:11

Paul Harvey 5:11
I like that. Oh, sorry Frank go ahead.

Frank Butler 5:14
No, no, you’re good. I just, it’s at the top of my head. And I was just like,

Paul Harvey 5:17

Frank Butler 5:17
Stood out as like, when you were sitting or starting your initial study on this work life balance. And the word busyness, and how people were talking about “busyness” came up, that… that’s something that’s so funny, like how research can really get changed. And this is why it’s important that we do some of these field studies like you were doing. Because that search triggering it’s not like we haven’t thought about busyness, as a field, necessarily, it’s just that it hadn’t really been defined as such, necessarily. And we kind of dance around and come up with different conceptualizations of what it is. But it truly busyness in itself is its own thing. You know, especially because of that, that time component to it. Right? I mean, just this temporal aspect. And so, I love that you you said that. Sorry, Paul, I just I had to pull that out. Because

Paul Harvey 6:01

Frank Butler 6:02
It’s so fascinating.

Paul Harvey 6:02
That actually relates to what I was, or what I was just thinking about. You mentioned the the tendency of people to try to recapture it. And I remember reading the paper, and all I could think of was that…how’s that saying go…chasing the dragon. For, like, heroin addicts and stuff, like trying to recapture this elusive passing state of existence. And I think that’s so applicable that we had we do have, you know, we don’t get bored, we don’t want to be overworked. There’s this middle ground, where we’re being productive. We’re kind of taking full advantage of all of our capabilities, but not pushing them too far. And it’s so hard just to hold on to that. That was one of the things I found really fascinating about this.

Frank Butler 6:45
And so that’s interesting, too, because that starts getting to that notion of if you’re chasing the dragon, right? You’re trying to get that next high, that that optimal busyness gives to you, which probably does lead to a condition of either being overly busy or bored, right, that sort of

Paul Harvey 7:00
You overdose.

Frank Butler 7:01
Yep. You overdose. Interesting. Oh, man. So

Ioana Lupu 7:05
yeah, you know, the these people will use quite often actually, this vocabulary of addiction. I’m addicted to busyness, I’m addicted to deadline. I’m a junkie for deadlines.

Paul Harvey 7:16
Yeah, so many people can’t sit still they start fidgeting and just sit down, try to read a book. And they’re bouncing all over the place.

Frank Butler 7:24
Undiagnosed adult, ADHD. That’s what that is.

Paul Harvey 7:28
I think we should coined our own term for that. Adults. I don’t know, busyness induced ADHD or something.

Frank Butler 7:34
But you know, it’s very interesting, because you’re right. People use that idea of I’m addicted to deadlines, right. And of course, there’s this whole other side of the camp that they say I love deadlines because of the whooshing sound they make as they go by. So that’s Douglas Adams, one of my favorite authors, but especially people who are procrastinators, they love deadlines, because they get these like bursts of activities. And there’s a sense of fulfillment, because you see it come together very quickly. And, you know, if you’ve got a lot of assignments that you’re doing, and they’ve got these tight deadlines, you’re always under this sort of duress and sort of this fuel and, and passion and fire, and I guess it could, you could find yourself becoming overworked very quickly, because you’re not balancing and managing your time as well as some others might.

Ioana Lupu 8:20
Yeah, yeah, that’s right. Absolutely. That’s why we think that and we conceptualize optimal busyness as being fleeting state, and there are some very, it’s also very fragile states. So it’s very easy to abuse it. And then you know, do you fall into excessive? Or, also, you can, you can slow things down too much. And then you know, you you go into the other side when you you’re bored.

Frank Butler 8:53
And that makes me think it’s like how do you get yourself either out of the board ruts and get yourself back into sort of a good pattern? Without overshooting it right without overshooting? Or how do you stay in that optimal zone not get, you know, overly worked or overly busy or bored? There’s gotta be some sort of checks and balances in there at some point, right? And…

Paul Harvey 9:12
Ideally, I think, I don’t know. Can you remember a time, either of you, where you were in that optimal state for a long time? It seems like we…we’re always fluctuating from one extreme to the other. And, you know, enjoying the transient time when we’re passing through from optimal to sub optimal and back again, but so hard to stay there.

Ioana Lupu 9:30
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And well, I think for us, the way we conceptualize this busyness states, so quiet time, optimal busyness and excessive busyness, it’s always about the this interplay between what we call organizational controls. So that these all the tools the mechanisms that are used to monitor are used by managers or organizations. As to monitoring the influence people’s behaviors, to align it with organizational objectives. So we have these organizational controls on the one side, and individual’s own attempt to control temporality that is to feel in control of their time. So these states are the result of this, this interplay.

Paul Harvey 10:21
Frank, you had mentioned a few minutes ago, the idea of having boundaries or “checks and balances” you said,

Frank Butler 10:28

Paul Harvey 10:28
To try to keep us from one extreme or the other. And that, I think, is what a lot of the study kind of dives into: personal tactics and organizational controls and such. So I’m wondering if you would mind going into that aspect of your findings a little bit.

Ioana Lupu 10:43
Yes, that’s right. So in our paper, we know that people can recreate or prolong optimal business by manipulating three elements, base, for course, and length. So I’ll explain each of these elements. The first element is space. And here we note the particularly how people energize their bodies in order to create excitement. Optimal busyness experiences are characterized by enjoyment, elation, and body energy, which helps individuals to go through and feel in control of their work demands. As I was saying previously, our participants cited that different substances that they use to energize their bodies, for instance, you know that those could range from coffee, energy drinks, to different other booster substances. That could energize re energize their bodies down by fatigue, and in the extreme, many of them actually used also alcohol, antidepressants or other types of drugs to put themselves in the right mood and create the adrenaline rush. So given these elements that I just noted, I think in terms of advice, or recommendations, if you want for professional side, we could note the need, I think, to accept and valorize also slow periods, accept the fact that it is okay if things do not pass accept them as a necessary period of rest and recovery, you know, mental and physical space where you can take more time for yourself and your family take time to do things properly and not always rush. So it’s important to take these breathing periods. Mixing Yep. In order for optimal business to happen. I think alternation between peaks and troughs is necessary. employees and managers alike, I think they have to accept that living on the peaks is not sustainable for the longer term.

Frank Butler 13:04
You know, it’s interesting, that aspect of it, I’m sorry to interrupt, but Paul and I covered something called niksen, and it’s a Dutch art of literally doing nothing. The example that we use, when you watch coffee brew, like instead of getting on your phone or anything like that, just truly take that moment. And then I want to point out the other thing, too. And actually, I shared this article, I’m pretty sure with Paul A while back, it’s the Russo and Lupu 2021 HBR, Harvard Business Review, “why young professionals should prioritize rest over work,” and I think that ties into it two because we, you know, there’s this whole importance of sleep and resting, I think that’s kind of like gets you in that valley a little bit. So you’re not just running peak to peak to peak and burning yourself out at the end of the day. So I apologize for interrupting, but just had pointed out because there’s so much of this that ties together with everything, right?

Ioana Lupu 13:53
That’s right. Yeah. Yeah, thank you very much, Frank. And your point is absolutely relevant. And I think it ties quite nicely with my second element. So I’ve just mentioned pace. The second element is I wanted to talk about this focus, we noticed how professionals producing optimal busyness were very narrowly focusing on the present. And yes, optimal busyness is characterized by increased productivity and being able to focus quite narrowly on the tasks or the tasks that one is doing, it actually increases productivity. However, you know, focusing narrowly on the present means also shutting out other areas of one’s life. And the purpose for doing that is it allows people not to worry about the heavy load and the tight deadlines ahead and just you know, to it’s also coping mechanism and it helps them to remain productive. So focus is important, but personal needs such as eating proper meals regularly or getting enough sleep, meeting friends, or being involved in the daily lives of one’s spouse, children. These are also important aspects and the neglecting them on the on the longer term can lead to poor health, depression and shattered private lives. So it’s important to make sure that, you know, you always rebalance. And you know, while you focus on your work, it’s also important to lift your eyes, eyes and embrace also the whole picture,

Paul Harvey 15:45
Which is difficult when you’ve got social elements in place that treat excessive busyness as kind of a badge of honor. This guy never stops, you know, 20 hours a day doesn’t sleep. It varies by culture, I think. But we always hear about those things of…like the successful people, and how much they work, how they’re always busy. So it’s hard to remind ourselves that No, we got to, if you want to perform at a peak level and be successful, we’ve got to let our bodies and minds recharge and heavy functioning, non-work life as well.

Ioana Lupu 16:16
That’s right. And I think one of the things that we want to do with our paper is to raise awareness, there is this ideology of busyness, busyness, which says that we’re being busy, it’s good, then those who are busy are good professionals. And we could see that many people that we interviewed, they were bragging with how many hours they worked, and that they are always taught in their firm in terms of the number of hours worked, as shown on their timesheets. So I think it’s important to get out of this whole ideology of dizziness, it’s not that important to work very long hours, there are other things that are more important.

Frank Butler 16:59
I think the other element is you’re setting this example, “Hey, I’m crazy busy, you know, I’m working all the time and putting all these hours.” But if you’re like a manager of a company, senior executive, whatever, that shouldn’t necessarily be the expectations for all your people, because that’s probably going to lead to a lot of crashing and burning of the people around. I mean, there’s going to be people who are going to who are going to change jobs, because they can’t keep up anymore. And so that’s that institutional knowledge you’ve lost the connections to, to internal networks, external networks, there’s so much loss that can happen, especially in these more sort of professional type service organizations and what have you. Yeah, I got another quick thing out of here, too, with this idea of focus. And I don’t know if there’s an answer to it. But it just had me thinking about multitasking, right? It’s like one of the things that Pete other people always say is, oh, I’m a great multitasker. Well, if you think about focus, there seems to be a little bit at odds with this notion of multitasking and focus, right, especially in this work from home environment where I’ve got the kids at home, I also need to do my job. And this, I feel like that would create that semblance of loss of focus. So multitasking is not always a good skill.

Ioana Lupu 18:10
Yeah, I mean, in our experience, I mean, what we notice is that mostly multitasking is not actually producing optimal busyness. Now, on the contrary, can produce excessive busyness and people feel or burdened with too many demands on them. Also, in terms of productivity, that may have a negative effects.

Paul Harvey 18:34
You try to put out 12 fires at a time you end up not putting out any of the fires, because you’re running from one to the next, the next…been there. Yeah.

Frank Butler 18:41
We’re stretching resources too thin. I, I will also interject one of my personal anecdotes in this at this point, too, just because this aligns so perfectly. A few years ago, I was just I was doing everything like I was I was teaching extra classes, I was publishing like crazy. I mean, I just, I had a really productive sprint of a year and a half, there was a lot of reinforcement for those, oh, you’re taking extra classes, here’s some extra money, oh, you just got polishing a bunch. Here’s an award, you know, congratulations in you know, you just get this continual high. And I never really took any downtime, I would go on vacation, and even on vacation, I would bring my laptop and I’d work. And then all of a sudden, it just all came crashing down for me. And I’ve kind of been spending some time rebuilding from that still. And that’s been six years roughly. Now it’s so it’s really interesting, how it can get unsustainable, but how easy it can be to get sucked into this sort of excessive busyness. And that’s that’s something that we have to figure out for ourselves too. You can’t always rely on your managers to help you with that because they don’t know what’s going on necessarily always in other facets of your life. They don’t know that you’re not taking a real vacation that you’re doing a workstation as some people say, you know, and you got to think about that personal level. And I think that also ties into the length element that you are probably going to address next because because it’s about how much or how long you’re, you’re doing these kinds of things, right?

Ioana Lupu 20:05
Yes, yes, that’s right. We found that many of our participants were fantasizing about busyness as being only short term, and that thus they could give all of themselves and we’d really enjoy the intensity of work more. And many, many fantasize about the holidays that they were planning for next year, or in a few months time or the weekends when they were going to rest. However, I think in many cases, we could note work, didn’t really have an end, new projects followed other projects, and often people had to shorten their or cancel their holidays, or even work on holidays to stay on top of work. In terms of recommendations, it is, I think, important to think and plan on the longer term and stick to the plan. It is important also to learn from the past, because we often saw that people themselves tweak a little bit into accepting one new, more new project and learning, you know, to say no, I think it’s important. It’s not something new. But it’s something that is worth reminding people, it’s important to say learn to say no and select the projects with more with value added for yourself and the firm. And like regularly look back and evaluate your work life balance. Because we saw how easy it is to forget how bad it was last year, how bad it was a few months ago. So it’s important to have this type of recalibrations from time to time. And don’t say, Well, I’m going to rest at the end at the end of this project, because there will be another project coming coming up. So

Paul Harvey 21:57
Sleep when I’m dead. Yeah, didn’t we have an episode about that at some point?

Frank Butler 22:01
We did actually

Paul Harvey 22:01
We mentioned that at some point, when it comes to busyness, you’re always assuming that you’re going to get to this ideal state where everything is just running super smoothly, everything’s organized to get everything just right. Like you’re always just a little bit, a few steps away, from achieving that point. You never achieve that point. Like it’s, never gonna be that smooth sailing situation that you envision someday happening,

Frank Butler 22:23
Right? And that was our too much time management episode, right? Where, you know, people were time management themselves, even into their vacations. They had everything planned out way too excessively. And so they never actually had downtime, right? They never planned downtime. And this is actually a good time to interject something that we talked about when we when we first had our conversation, our pre-recording meeting with Ioana here. And Paul made this comment that basically this is also a good correction for the Busyness Paradox, because one of the things we keep talking about is how to unwind a lot of busyness and find these avenues of respite, you know, getting rest and trying to do nothing. Don’t be always on your phone. But there is this sort of notion of this optimal busyness and that’s what this reset is. So in you said it to you, you were talking about take the time after a project to decompress, you know, you got to have these periods of activity. But we got to also be mindful of taking the time that’s given to us to sort of self correct. And I’ll also give another example of how this happened. So over the weekend, I went to a masterclass with Victor Wooten and Victor Wooten is one of the greatest bass players to ever live. And I love the band. He’s part of bailiff, Fleck and the Flecktones. But one of the things he talks about with the pandemic, he’s like, I’m a touring musician. He’s like, I’m always on the road. He’s like, I’ve got four kids, one of them’s now 24. He’s like, I finally, the good thing about the pedantic he’s like, there was this, he didn’t use the term silver lining, but the silver lining was, I got to go home and not be a bass player. He’s like, that’s always been my identity. He’s like, I got to be a dad, I got to help my kid get a driver’s license. And there’s something so important to understand about that concept of your your work identity is your work identity. And in his case, his bass player, but there’s also this sort of identities, your other identities, your other hats you wear that you got to take time for going back to your notion of focus, right? Use that to focus in on those identities versus trying to multitask and juggle them and plan everything out. And I don’t know that just that kind of just really struck a chord for me. Awakening in a sense.

Paul Harvey 24:35
That’s why we keep saying this is a once in a generation, if not longer opportunity for all of us to reset. The ways we do everything. I mean, a big reason why we decided to start this podcast right now is because a lot of us were going through that experience. Suddenly we’re forced into a sort of more less work focused lifestyle, let’s say and realizing that there’s something to this If we don’t make that correction now, it’s not going to happen. Again, the timeliness of of your study was just fantastic for our purposes.

Frank Butler 25:08
It really is. And you said it, you started with this notion of work life balance first. And in this sort of evolved because you kept hearing busyness, busyness, and one of the things that you have in the different categories of busyness, right, you have the quiet time, optimal business and excessive business. But in each of those, you have low work life conflict, acceptable work, life conflict, and then high work life conflict. I just like to understand a little bit more about what those are because like, when I think low work life conflict, I think that’s Oh, that’s a great thing. But then I started thinking about a little rich, more rich thing. Go ahead. I’m bored at work. If I’m not doing much right now, even though I’m working. I’m not going home and having great conversations necessarily with my wife, either. And so there’s a loss of maybe communication there, which, of course, we think conflict is a bad thing, then it’s not necessarily a negative, I think always Can you can you speak more about work life conflict,

Paul Harvey 25:57
Conflict, do you mean, like, the tension between the work and home-

Frank Butler 26:00

Paul Harvey 26:01
Responsibility? Okay.

Ioana Lupu 26:02
Yes. Yeah, I mean, these are, you’re talking about here here about quiet time. And this was, especially when it was perceived as being too long. It was perceived as being suboptimal. And people talked about the boredom experiencing also the, the, the experience of time as flying by very quiet very slowly, or experiencing anxiety or decreased productivity, low working engagements. So all these happened when, when they experienced quiet time as being too too long to extend it. And yes, of course, while you know, their work life balance in our parents may have been perfect, because they didn’t have that much work. Or they also didn’t feel very happy during these periods. And of course, if these periods could continue, continued a bit more were prolonged, then, of course, the relationships with other members of the family or their private life was all would also be affected. Because when people start to feel anxious about their work about their, their being perceived as good workers, that obviously also affects their private lives.

Paul Harvey 27:50
And again, going back to that chasing the dragon metaphor, I think it can be very destructive, the extent to which we, we kind of rely on that reinforcement from other people. But I’ve also kind of noticed a dark side to it, where you make yourself a lot more susceptible to being used by other people. There’s a saying, which I think usually is meant, in a good way. If you want something done, ask a busy person. I’ve noticed in my own experience, and watching others that if you decide to course correct, and you decide to dial down the busyness or something happens, you get sick, or it forces your hand, some people get kind of angry about it, that, hey, I was counting on you to do my job for me, what am I going to do now? Like, hey, you know, I’ve got I’ve got problems over here on my own, like, besides not doing your job, I don’t think people are aware of the extent that they do that. But when you kind of tie your own success to the busyness of somebody else, it can make it that much harder for the overworked person to dial it back. A little bit of a tangent of mine. But…

Ioana Lupu 28:49
Absolutely, and I was talking earlier about the all these organizational controls that companies use to align employees behaviors with their own objectives. And this can range from organizational culture to team or peer control, performance evaluations, these different incentives, like promotion, like bonuses, yes, yes, absolutely. All these have their role. And often, you know, the role in related to this topic of the study is to push people to work longer hours and to be more productive for the benefit of the firm.

Frank Butler 29:31
Right? I think this is interesting, because this is this really has a lot of implications for both the manager and the employee themselves. Right. And I’m just thinking about the current context, again, with the pandemic and this quote, unquote, great resignation, which really is more of a great migration of workers, right? People are taking new jobs. And I think a lot of them are trying to find sort of this optimal busyness in a sense, right? They’re trying to get more maybe work from home or remote work type jobs where they can spend a little bit more time at home. In a lot of stories about that, where people were like, Hey, I don’t want to drive into work every day, I can spend three days at home a week now in this job, which that’s an extra two hours to get back in their day from being in a car to drive to work, and then back home, gives them more time with their family. So it starts creating a sort of, almost in its own way, its own optimal busyness, being able to have more of your time back without the commute would have you there, we’re gonna have remote work as part of our thing, where it’s three days home two days on, that’s a control mechanism, hey, we’re giving you time back. And I think a lot of people appreciate those sorts of structures.

Paul Harvey 30:38
You what you mentioned about having implications for both management and employees, I would say there’s a paradoxical elements to this busyness phenomenon, just thought of that. But in both cases, you know, the manager, or the employer and the employee, both have this kind of built in drive towards too much busyness, that self destructive, you know, it’s self destructive for ourselves as people, and it’s destructive for the organization, employing us because a burned out employee is not very good ROI for you. So it’s kind of like we’re both driving towards the same cliff, and not realizing that that’s a bad thing to be doing.

Ioana Lupu 31:17
Yeah, that’s right. And I think, related to what both of you were saying earlier, I think it would be interesting to note that as remote work has generalized during the pandemic, many of the previous indirect non constraining control mechanisms such as culture socialization, or performance evaluation, do not well work that well anymore how to evaluate the work of people you’ll never meet. What does culture mean, when you know, the chat chatting around the coffee machine, or the water fountain does not happen anymore. And also, if we think of the socialization of the newcomers, as well as learning that happened through sitting by and watching, the more experienced people do the work, this is something that was severely disrupted. So with the breaking down of this less constraining more in the direct means of employee monitoring, I think there has been more and more focus on increasing focus, if you want on deploying and using direct forms of monitoring, such as monitoring online presence, asking for timesheets to be filled in daily instead of weekly as previously, or using different tracking devices for employees present in front of their computers, or different other ways of tracking their time.

Paul Harvey 32:49
We’re big fans of HR tracking.

Ioana Lupu 32:52
Yeah, that’s right.

Paul Harvey 32:53
You’re right, though, that that’s a scary implication of all this

Frank Butler 32:57
Is the over monitoring, right, kind of the abuse of this. And it’s funny, because you and I had that conversation a little bit too. And I still have to send you the the scan here. But the one thing that I keep thinking is like this has created a lot of new opportunity for entrepreneurs. There’s devices out there, like the mouse jiggler, which is a USB thumb drive that plugs into your computer, that jiggles your mouse every minute. So it appears like you’re actually in front of your computer, and it does full a lot of the HR tracking type things, they make sure that your computer doesn’t go into a sleep mode, or it doesn’t let your like Microsoft teams go into sleep mode. So I mean, it’s, it’s these kinds of things that are leading to people finding ways to cheat the system, in a sense, right. But I think there’s a rationale behind that. Because sometimes this the control mechanisms, or the system is a little bit too, too much.

Paul Harvey 33:49
When all your ingenuity is being put towards that kind of thing. Yeah, something has gone wrong.

Frank Butler 33:53

Ioana Lupu 33:55
And I think it’s good that workers are pushing back, then, you know, they find find ways to resist, but I’m not sure that on the longer term if you know the forces are equal and because, you know, organizations can come up with better when devices that are better and better. And so…

Paul Harvey 34:19
hire someone to just stare at you at your desk that comes to your house and just watch you

Frank Butler 34:23
That’s right, they’re gonna have they’re gonna have the person monitoring you in your own home. Or they’re gonna do like we have with the testing, right? Like you have the ability to have the cameras like you have to show your driver’s license, you have to be in there. They monitor your sounds, which is horrifying. Oh, it’s actually so here’s a question for you on one of the things that we talked about here on the business paradox a little bit is, you know, this, this notion of the arbitrary 40 Hour Workweek now, the 40 hour work week is very much an American sort of number, right, because I think the workweek in France is what 35 hours, is that Workweek

Paul Harvey 34:58
By fiat.

Frank Butler 34:59

Ioana Lupu 34:59
Yeah. So that’s, that’s right. It’s we have a 35 hours work week. But that doesn’t really apply in professional firms or, let’s say white collar for white collar workers who normally have to work 45 hours per week, per week. And instead in order to compensate them, for the for the fact that they work more hours, more hours per day, then you know, the 35 hours. Regular man did it, they get additional paid time out the additional holidays. So I could see that, for instance, compared to London, to UK to the UK, where people only have 20 paid days of holiday per year in France. More…we are at around 40, I would say.

Paul Harvey 36:05
It’s funny that you’ve qualified that with “only 20 days.” And Frank and I are sitting here, only 20 days…

Frank Butler 36:11
we have no requirements for days off here in the United States, although I think the average company has what 11 paid holidays by the federal government. And then they give you, you know, maybe 10 days off as vacation time,

Paul Harvey 36:23
I didn’t think it was even that much.

Frank Butler 36:25
But it might not be I just you know, I just always blows my mind how you

Paul Harvey 36:30
And if you take that vacation day, well you might be a bit of a slacker

Frank Butler 36:33
Yeah, right. But you know, that’s, that’s a very interesting thing, too. I mean, thinking, a lot of times people tend to think, okay, it’s, it might be different in different countries, because of the cultures of those nations that sort of that national culture that goes on. And, you know, there’s, there’s, of course, stereotypes of French workers versus other, you know, European workers. But, you know, I think one of the things that like Paul, and I try to do too, is that, yes, people might have to work longer, but as sometimes, too, and I think with France, the control mechanisms, the 40 days, but I think what we’ve tried to say is that we need to focus in on the output, and less about the time spent, and just kind of thinking about that. What are your thoughts associated with this notion of what if we lost the idea of a 40 hour work week or a 35 hour week, we just said, Hey, when the job’s done, take some time move on the next project. I mean, it can’t be quite that unstructured, but

Paul Harvey 37:27
Basically drop the temporal aspect is what you’re saying, yeah, just don’t track your hours, don’t count your hours. Just here’s your job. When you’re done, you’re done. Do you think that’s possible?

Ioana Lupu 37:36
Yeah. Yeah. And that’s totally doable, especially in professional service firms, where they really I mean, this is like, it’s embedded in the culture, they work by objectives. So, you have each project and these are the objectives so so it would really be doable, but he especially in France, were presenting is miss something that is very important, because there is a in all company in men, most companies there is a culture of management, not trusting employees, unless they have them under their eyes. I think it’s very difficult to make this move. I is by comparison, I think in London, and I would rather talk about the London versus Paris than UK versus France, because, you know, I can I really conducted my interviews, only in in in London and Paris, in the work environments, they tend to be different in the rest of the countries. But so by contrast, I think in the UK, there’s a lot less focus on presenteeism, and I think they’re, I already see a lot more flexibility I mean, much more companies which are more comfortable with their employees working from home or three days per week, or even more even 100%. I have a I have people I know who work for companies in London who work now 100% from home in Paris, you very rarely see that. I mean, it’s we would have on average, maybe two days from home or 2.5 days from from home. Wow, that’s interesting because these these stressed I mean, and yeah, and firms or companies are putting a lot of pressures on employees to go back to, to work.

Frank Butler 39:56
That’s fascinating that there’s that much of a cultural difference. between the workers in London versus Paris, and sort of the the manager, right? It’s more on the management end of it. Yeah. Oh, you’re not going to get your work done sort of thing.

Paul Harvey 40:09
Ah, yeah. I’m also wondering if it has anything to do with the legal aspect of the 35 hour workweek and France? Does that involve more tracking and record keeping to stay in compliance with that, which, you know, unintended consequences? Does that in turn lead to some of that pressure to be in the office for certain amounts of time that you’re talking to maybe explain some of the distinction between Paris and London?

Ioana Lupu 40:37
I would say that, yes, obviously, I think it is, it is related to this legal requirements to keep a track of the hours but often, you know, surprisingly, firms in Paris do not really abide by these legal requirements, because in these professional service firms, people work over time, without ever being paid. And that is a fact that is known by everybody. But, you know, the legal authorities, they keep the close an eye on that. So

Frank Butler 41:23

Ioana Lupu 41:25
It’s, it doesn’t really, it’s not really taken into account. However, I think, you know, the impact it has, it’s on, on the difficulty to find on the on the job market, so I could see, I mean, the job market is much more flexible, and much more dynamic in London, compared to Paris, in Paris, because it is so difficult to fire a person. Many companies prefer not to hire people in the first place and not to hire them by offering them a permanent contract. So you’d see quite often, you know, temporary contracts. Whereas in the in London, because it’s relatively easy, I mean, job market, it’s relatively easy to, to fire people, so and to hire others in the job market is much more flexible. And there is a different relationship, I think in between firms and employees. In this context,

Frank Butler 42:34
I wonder what that is, you know, because I remember, with my UK colleagues, for example, we had, we had let them go and they were, like nonchalant about it, they’re like, Oh, I’m gonna go find another job. It’s not a problem at all. You know, it was very interesting, of course, also very good sort of unemployment benefits. And, you know, you don’t have to worry about health insurance, like some of the stuff that we worry about here. But it’s just interesting to note that there’s differences in how the firm and, and I know, France, for example, is very much more sort of favoring the employee side, whereas the UK is a little bit more about the company side. And from a national governance aspect. I’m wondering how much that drives sort of that that difference, because it’s like, oh, the employees have more control in France. And I use that word kind of loosely, but the employee has a little bit more protection, I guess, in France than they do in the UK. I’m guessing that

Paul Harvey 43:29
Well it comes full circle and makes it hard to get a job because we can’t fire anybody.

Frank Butler 43:33
And then on top of it, too, it’s like that might mean to, I’m going to make sure I’m getting the most out of my people, because I don’t trust them do so because I can’t fire them. I can’t. You know, I’m wondering if that’s sort of the element.

Ioana Lupu 43:43
Yeah, that’s right. Absolutely. It’s a vicious circle here. I mean, yes, on the one side, you can say that the employees have certain benefits here in France compared to the UK more job security, for instance. But at the same time, there is this relationship, this relationship of the stress the distrust is fueled by the impossibility of bombing the difficulty, let’s say of companies to fire people who are inadequate in their jobs.

Paul Harvey 44:20
Great movie about this maybe 15 years ago, it’s a French film called “Human Resources.” We’ll put a link to it in the show notes if anyone’s interested but really captured the management employee dynamic unique to France and it takes place right around the the implementation of 35 Hour Work Week law. I haven’t watched that movie in over a decade but a lot of what you’re saying is kind of bring it back to mind again. Yeah, I do want to mention you want to it is five o’clock your time so we don’t want to push you. We want to be mindful of your time busy.

Frank Butler 44:54
But But we would like to actually I think wrap up though with a sort of what work do you think still needs to be done for busyness to understand business. So what do you think the the, what we still need to know? What do we need to know?

Ioana Lupu 45:08
Hmm, I think there’s quite a bit more work to be done to understand busyness. And because this is a phenomenon that’s so multifaceted, then stretches well beyond the organizational sphere into people’s private lives, I see much potential for interdisciplinary research. And in fact, one of the projects I’m currently working on with Jonas, is to understand how consumption of goods services and pacifically certain also a certain family arrangements with stay at home spouse, for instance, and the certain lifestyle, which involves the consumption of high end goods and luxury experiences, are used on the one side as a justification to be busy and stay busy. And on the other side as compensation. So I’m absent from family life, but I compensate by offering them expensive gifts and expensive experiences. And I pay for the fees for them to go to private schools, there’s assumption, there is some kind of cycle I think, consumption and busyness that reinforce each other. That’s interesting.

Frank Butler 46:37
Yeah, just really thinking about the status element have to look at like the fruits of my labor. You know, I’m buying all these like Louis Vuitton, or I’m buying a Bentley, or you know, and then at the end of the day, it’s like, what joy Do you really get out of because you’re so busy, but no, it’s interesting editing that family arrangement element, if your spouse is at home, you know, the kids are at home and then paying for their privates. Because you got to be in the right places, right? Because that’s that network. It’s sort of how you’re seen and, you know, oh, but I gotta be able to afford it. So I have to make sure I can’t lay it off my job. And of course, then you have the heart attack at 50. Just right.

Ioana Lupu 47:11
That’s right. In the end, these people have very little flexibility to change their arrangements. After pass the state has certain a certain age,

Paul Harvey 47:22
You get locked into the busyness lifestyle.

Frank Butler 47:24
Yeah, the inertia that gets created. Yeah, that’s interesting. Oh, that’s fascinating. That’s a really cool sounding study. I can’t wait to read it when it’s published

Paul Harvey 47:30
I wish I thought of it first, actually.

Frank Butler 47:34
Yeah, I know. Right?

Paul Harvey 47:37
That would be, we’d love to have you back on to talk about that.

Frank Butler 47:40
When that’s published, we’ll have you back on for sure for that one. But, again, to be mindful of your time, thank you so much. It’s been a great interview. Truly, I could spend another hour doing this. But I don’t think our listeners wouldn’t necessarily want that. But I know once anyway, I know Paul would and but we know it’s later there. And you’ve got your family that you speaking of families and family arrangements, and yeah, whatever time with it. So thank you so much, Ioana,

Paul Harvey 48:10
Yeah, thank you so much.

Ioana Lupu 48:11
Thank you. Thank you very much, guys. I really enjoyed that.

Paul Harvey 48:14

The Busyness Paradox is distributed by Paul Harvey and Frank Butler. Our theme music is adapted from “It’s Business Time” by Jemaine Clements and Bret McKenzie. Our production manager is Justin Wuntaek. We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode, and we’d love to hear from you. Please send any questions, comments or ideas for future episode topics to input@busynessparadox.com, or find us on Twitter. Also, be sure to visit our website, busynessparadox.com, to read our blog posts and for links to the articles and other resources mentioned in today’s show. Finally, please take a moment to rate and follow or subscribe to our show on Apple podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts or…I don’t know, wherever the heck you get your podcasts.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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