On The Clock

Bourree Lam flags new findings on the impact of clocks in the workplace:

The research of Tamar Avnet and Anne-Laure Sellier focuses on the differences between organizing one’s time by “clock time” vs. “task time.” Clock-timers organize their day by blocks of minutes and hours. For example: a meeting from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., research from 10 a.m. to noon, etc. On the other hand, task-timers have a list of things they want the accomplish. They work down the list, each task starts when the previous task is completed. The researchers say that all of us employ a mix of both these types of planning.

They wanted to know, what are the effects of thinking about time in these different ways? Does one make us more productive? Better at the tasks at hand? Happier?

In their experiments, they had participants organize different activities—from project planning, holiday shopping, to yoga—by time or to-do list to measure how they performed under “clock time” vs “task time.” They found clock timers to be more efficient but less happy because they felt little control over their lives. Task timers are happier and more creative, but less productive. They tend to savor the moment when something good is happening, and seize opportunities that come up.

On a somewhat related note, Megan McArdle analyzes a Supreme Court case whose plaintiffs are employees of an Amazon contractor “who say they had to wait in line as long as 25 minutes — unpaid — to clear end-of-shift security screenings”:

Should they be paid for that time? The intuitive answer is obvious: of course. Their employer requires the security screenings to guard against theft; it is part of their employment. How can your employer make you spend significant time doing something, while declining to pay you for it? Labor activists call this “wage theft,” and I can’t say that’s an unfair word for it. If you want to pay your workers by the hour, you should pay for all of them.

But the law is never simple and intuitive, in large part because case law is made by the difficulty of hard corner cases. The briefs run through some of this history. For example: Does your employer have to pay you for your commuting time? That doesn’t seem reasonable; employees could relocate to the far exurbs and get themselves time and a half for hours spent driving and singing along to “Free Fallin’.” …

The workers’ brief tries to distinguish those cases from the Amazon case. The TSA case seems pretty easy: The security screening is not there for the benefit of the employer; it’s there because it’s required by law. You can’t demand that your employer pay you for commuting just because they’re located in the middle of an extended 15-mph zone. The security checks at the Amazon warehouse, on the other hand, are exclusively for the benefit of the employer, who is trying to prevent theft.