Cell Phones and Worker Productivity

A guy in a movie theater answers his cell phone. Can you feel the rant coming? Here’s another off-topic, gadget-related post for you to enjoy.


Several people complained immediately, and good for them: The movie is something we all paid to enjoy, and this guy is devaluing our purchase by carrying on a conversation. ?It?s work!? he defends himself, ?I don?t want to be one the cell phone!? The argument being, well, we all have to work harder these days. And that?s a common feeling: You see people on their Crackberries thumbing out e-mails constantly, as if a moment of disconnectivity would cause their professional lives to crumble. How did we do it back in 1996, just ten years back, when cell phones weren?t nearly so common or cheap? ?Well, we?re more productive now,? some say, ?because we work all those extra hours on the cell phone outside the office.?


Really? Well, this I can research ? the US Department of Labor has a whole division for statistics. Let?s have some fun.


In 2006, we had 125,563k persons working out of an eligible labor pool of 130,010k.  In 1996, we had 127,597k working out of 134,818k ? so, more people in the workforce then, but a much larger pool, too. In other words, unemployment was higher. But, for our purposes, the interesting bit is the less than 2% jump in the national workforce over 10 years. Just 2%.


Now, productivity. This stuff is measured in an index, not any kind of unit, so you just compare the numbers to one another. Right now we?re pushing an output per hour of 135.7, vs. ten years ago when we had 101.9. So we?re up about 25% in terms of output? with less than 2% additional people contributing to that output. So we?re more productive. So maybe those cell phones work. But working all those extra hours? Is it worth it?


Compensation per hour is at 163.8, versus 108.5 ten years back ? a jump of almost a third. So we are paying people more in exchange for them being more productive ? and presumably spending so much of their off-hours on the cell phone. Inflation only adds up to about 12% over this ten-year period, so we can assume a net of about a 21% payraise for the nation in general. So we’re getting paid for lots of extra hours.


Hours of all persons working: 117.7 nowadays, 107.6 back then ? almost a 9% increase. So? our 2% labor force growth is working about 9% harder to produce about 25% more output, with about a 21% payraise. In fact, we?re not working much longer hours ? but our tools are letting us produce more in the time we do work, and we?re getting paid a healthy amount more in exchange. And statistically, we’re NOT working a lot of extra hours!


(BTW, these numbers, especially the productivity ones, focus on the business sector ? not farming or manufacturing).


The numbers, then, suggest that the tools at your workplace are making you plenty extra productive; you don?t need to put in the extra hours. Taking some average-working-hours numbers into account, that 9% growth in hours worked measures out to roughly 4-5 extra hours per week? back in 1995, a 40-45 hour work week was pretty standard in the business sector; statistically, we?re only pulling 45-50 hours nowadays.


So put the dang phone away. Enjoy the movie.