Campus News

Psychologist discusses research into work productivity

Malissa Clark, associate professor and industrial/organizational psychologist in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences’ psychology department, discussed her research into work productivity with Glamour.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way that many people work, switching to teleworking, hybrid models, or socially distanced offices. The model of a perfect office is changing, and with that the expectations for how much work is expected during a 40-hour workweek.

“This 40-hour workweek was designed when we still had this breadwinner model in families where one person would be the worker and one person would stay home and take care of the family role,” Clark said.

Clark argues that this model is outdated and hasn’t changed with the times as many households now have two working parents. The hours of a 40-hour workweek also don’t favor an active family.

“If we were smart about it and we really listened to the researchers who have worked on this and actually drew from the rest and recovery literature, I don’t see any reason why we have to be married to this 9-to-5,” Clark said.

She argues that with this structure, many people end up working more than they are paid to do.

“This idea of working to be the best employee, working even more than that to shine and rise above the rest – I think that is a horrible idea,” Clark said. “It’s inevitably going to lead to burnout.”

Clark suggests more breaks throughout the workday to account for a shortened attention span and risk of overworking.

“I think we have to ask: How long is the stretch that we can work on a task and be completely focused on that task? And once we figure out that – say it’s a half hour or 45 minutes that we’re really good at sustaining our attention – then implement workday break activities in between these really heavy periods of focus. There’s a ton of research on the effectiveness of workday breaks – this could be as simple as checking Facebook or walking during the workday. I wish I had a perfect answer. But I think if we did this, we could be equally effective in half the time,” said Clark.