“People don’t have time to perform their tasks at work”, says Anders Ivarsson-Westerberg who is performing research on administrative tasks. This says something about the situation that is prevalent in many of today’s places of employment. In a survey carried out by the European work-environment company EU-OSHA amongst nearly 50,000 workplaces in 36 European countries, Sweden is at the top of the list when it comes to time pressure at work. Seventy-four percent of the Swedish employers that responded indicated that time pressure is problematic. The average for Europe lies around 43 percent, and in Turkey, for example, the number is only 15 percent.1
One of the reasons for this development can be found in creeping effectiveness requirements, which are becoming increasingly tangible. Gradually, inefficiencies are being eliminated, while employees are expected to take on larger and larger workloads in the form of increased volume and speed or increase demand for cognitive and physical effort. Statistics from the EU show that work intensity and the perception of work demands have increased significantly over the past 20 years.2 And Sweden is one of the EU countries with the highest levels of work intensity. One can argue that the market’s built-in demand for expansion has made us slaves of efficiency.
Time is more value than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time. | Jim Rohn, writer and lecturer
One consequence, from an internal perspective, is that as an employer one must consider when one is pushing beyond the limit of what people are capable of managing. It can be difficult for employees to set limits themselves when working hours are becoming more flexible. While some manage to integrate work and free time, many are stressed by work always seeming to come first. Work is experienced as vague – one doesn’t know exactly which expectations or goals apply. There is no limit to how much, how fast or how well one can perform. One never quite reaches a goal and doesn’t complain either when the workload becomes too heavy or exceeds one’s competence.
An increased perception of lack of time at work not only causes consequences for the work-environment, it also creates external consequences, primarily for customer relations. We can expect that more time-pressed and stressed customers, who’s attention becomes increasingly difficult to capture. The IT analyst Michael O’Neil has introduced the concept “zero friction”, which means that the most important thing for a sales rep today is to remove all potential barriers to a purchase – it must be friction free. Everyone has limited attention to offer the surrounding environment and as a sales rep one must think about how one can justify and preferably compensate for the encroachment that occurs when one makes demands on someone else’s time. It must be about helping the customer to save time, rather than waste it. Stressed buyers can of course be easily influenced and ask for someone who can guide them to fast and effective choices, but they can just as easily become disinterested and dismissive.
Even if it sometimes is a challenge to capture a customer’s attention, paradoxically they require total attention when they initiate contact independently. “Whatever you do, drop whatever you are doing, because I want your attention now!” Quick responses are the highest priority when customers have questions and concerns, and the level of service comes in third place. When making contact by phone, 59 percent of customers expect a solution within 30 minutes. For social media and email, most customers expect a solution within a day.3 Customers are also quicker to express their dissatisfaction, which can be reflected in social media and damage reputation.
1 Eurofound (2017). Sixth European Working Conditions Survey. Luxemburg: Publications Office of the European Union.
3 Ovum (2016). Get it right: Deliver the omni-channel support customers want.