Greedy Goblin

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Working hours and rewards

I bookmarked a post long ago, thinking about a lot. The author (who is the same as the author of the hilarious crybaby post), wrote that working 60+ hours/week is typical in several computer game development company, but it's also ineffective: "You simply don’t gain more productivity by applying a 1.5 multiplier to everyone’s work hours. More likely, you start to introduce failure into the system as people get sloppy and careless as a best case scenario, and as a worst case scenario people start to flip you the virtual finger and spend their hours at their cubicle playing World of Warcraft instead... What you are doing is instead creating a very efficient subculture of slacking. People will watch online videos, post to their blogs about how abused they are for never leaving the office, killing each other in this week’s shooter of choice, and have a Naxx raid going on the other monitor. Some companies fight back by aggressive firewalling and system monitoring. Those companies find out how easy it is to bypass those systems. If you treat your employees like enemy children, you’ll find that they can throw a lot of stones at you."

I always thought that somehow he is right, but I couldn't explain why. He did also not give an explanation. The "people don't want to grind" is not an explanation. People are ready to grind for a lot of time for some of their goals. We saw people grinding elementals or flying circles for nodes or doing insane achievements like 1000 emblems (about 200 hours of 5 mans), or timbermaw exalted (10 billion deadwood furbolgs killed). If they can do that, why can't they grind the same time in a workplace?

It's well known fact that people are motivated by a reward. The 1000 emblems and a job are very different because:
  • you get the emblems for actually doing the instance, while you get the salary for being at workplace. If you just zone in and watch TV, you'll get no loot (unless you find some losers who boost you).
  • You can also see your progress: by every boss you kill your emblem count increases. In a workplace you can't really see the results of your effort in the project as it is a team work. In worse case your job is not even a project. If you clean toilets, no matter how hard you try, you can't get the job done. Tomorrow the toilet will need cleaning again.
  • And finally, when you reach 1000 emblems, it will be your victory. In a work it will be the leader's, or the company's or the team's.
There is a known psychological phenomenon called social loafing: when a person is doing some task alone, he does better effort than in a group.

Actually it's a quite logical move. If they are paid for the hours, they will do the hours and not the work. We can see it all the time in raids. Unless the RL catch the M&S, they do 800DPS, since everyone present will get equal chance to the loot.

Theoretically, the solution is quite simple: pay the people for the work. For example the game developer could be paid for the number of monsters modeled and not for the hours, just like the player is rewarded for furbolgs killed and not time spent among furbolgs.

While the solution is simple, it's quite rare for several reasons.
  • At first it significantly decrease the power of the boss. If I'm paid for monsters, I'm rather a "one man business selling monsters" than an employee. If he tells me to make coffee, I simply say no and he can't really do anything about it.
  • Secondly people prefer safety over income. As a hourly paid worker, I get the same money every month until I'm layed off. In Europe even laying off is hard, the worker have several rights including "job-ending money" that can reach a year of salary (for absolutely nothing).
  • People are also got used to it to do as told. As a monster-modeler, I have to find my work. If there are no monsters left in this game, I have to find another game, or I have to learn new skills to be able to code my monster's movements or something like that. On the other hand as an hourly paid employee I'm only needed to be able to follow simple instructions.
Moral of the story: if you want something to be done, motivate the people to do it, and not just be there.

Trap: This needs you to be ready to tell "you're out of luck" to those who really did their best but failed.


Anonymous said...

another interesting article on what i see as "commissions" even though you didn't really say it.

my gf works on a productivity scale and it doesn't sound like it works. any real work she does is charged to the client and any work that she doesn't do but on company time comes out of her pocket.

if she goes and asks for help from her boss or another worker, it is charged to the client but she technically isn't productive. it comes out of her wallet by having to make up extra time outside of normal business hours. if the staff group go out for a compulsory lunch to meet clients, that time is also unproductive.

alternatively, when i consider her situation my hourly wage is quite good. I rock up and 'be on the clock' doing work when it is necessary. when the hours are finished, i leave so i have no unpaid overtime. i do resent, however, the lazy M+S who work in my same occupation/wage level but in a quieter location who get to read magazines while i work.

Hirvox said...

One very important thing about incentives is that you have to measure the right thing or you'll end up rewarding counterproductive behavior. For example, if the quantity of the monsters created is the thing that matters, then quality will sink as low as possible. If the work being done is somewhat abstract or creative in nature, it can be very hard, if not impossible, to measure it.

Daniel said...

go read joelonsoftware. maybe the best blog how to manage the white collar people (short version - you don't, empower them, trust them and if they fail you - replace them)

Also - 8 hour workday is way too long. There are very few people that can be on the top of their game for 8 hours all week. The real number is about 4 hours/day for a work that requires brain.

Anonymous said...

What Hirvox said.

Catalin said...

The article is dead on.

Although I don't remember the exact sources, I recall studies have been done that pointed employees are most effective when working around 7 hours a day, 5 days a week. This is for people in the software development / programming business.

And a small correction -- the number of furlborg kills needed to reach exalted is quite low -- 1100 regular mob kills.

On my frost mage I spent no more than 3 hours at level 54 AOE grinding on those mobs, and reached revered easily.

Anonymous said...

BTW it's "paid", not "payed".

Jezebeau said...

When speaking of insane achievements, one had best remember the one that gives you the "The Insane" title.

@Catalin: Given that, once you hit revered, unnamed Furbolgs stop giving rep, good luck with that plan.

Anonymous said...

"Theoretically, the solution is quite simple: pay the people for the work."

It is called contracting.

Barrista said...

Trap: This needs you to be ready to tell "you're out of luck" to those who really did their best but failed.I think this is only necessary on commission jobs. This doesn't work for science fields as your failures may lead to success if the information is interpreted correctly.

I have a job where you can over extend yourself, solve a problem that has been worked on by multiple people with higher degrees for years and at the end of the year you are still told you are average, and get little pay reward or promotional prospects. And I'm sitting here at work commenting on your blog.

Happyending said...

@Jezebeau: Given that, once you hit revered, unnamed Furbolgs stop giving rep, good luck with that plan.If I recall correctly, You now get full rep right on up to exalted. I don't know as I really don't want to go grind Furblogs for a day.

*vlad* said...

In the Soviet Union during WW2, workers in factories were effectively conscripted to their work place.
They didn't get holidays, and absenteeism was on a par with desertion - ie death penalty.

As the situation grew more desperate in 1941 and 1942, the hours that people were forced to work in the factories was increased again and again, until eventually people were working a huge number of hours a week.

What they found out was, that after a certain threshold, increased man-hours did not lead to increased productivity; rather it levelled off, and in some cases, fell below levels achieved when working hours were a lot less.

The reward was plain - victory; the punishment for failure was death or imprisonment, so people had the greatest motivation, but plainly the grind reduced their efficiency and motivation.

Merlot said...

The analysis makes sense but it falls down in the real world, where big companies waste vast fortunes on contractors and consultants for very little gain. These people may be paid for their deliverables, rather than their time, but they are as equally motivated as the salaried employee to deliver the minimum necessary for the reward (and they're just as likely to be morons).

Doesn't internal motivation (enjoyment, recognition, collective pride) count too? These are certainly factors that can separate a productive employee from a slacker. This could also explain why guilds are often happy to carry their M&S - people think as individuals, not as corporate entities, so the experience matters as much as, if not more than, the reward.

Or is that just all lefty, M&S nonsense???

yuripup said...

Yea, I have to agree,

Empower, enable and get out of the way.

And he talks about rewards/commission systems. Any one that is applied mindlessly will be gamed and pwnd faster than rats in MMOGs. And not give you the results that you want.

Yaggle said...

Well, okay yeah, but, working 60 hours a week still sucks. Hire another person to take the 20 hours and somebody else's extra 20 hours. Overtime should always be optional.

Yaggle said...

I saw somebody say 8 hours of work per day is too long. A lot of people work 10 or 12 hours a day. However I agree. I am full-time now so I work 8 hours a day. I used to be part-time. When I worked about 6 hours a day, I did my most productive work. I very simply cannot work that hard for 8 hours. I do pace myself a little bit, if I did not, my last couple hours of work would be very unproductive. Funny thing is when I was part-time, my employer kept on trying to make me work longer and longer, first 7, then 8 or 9 hours per day. That is because I had weak bosses who would not make the lazy people work harder and instead keep me there longer to do their work. The American system of making people work 50 or 60 hours per week is flawed.

Anonymous said...

Not all people are motivated by rewards:

Some good examples why "paying for the number of monsters" is not working:

periodic said...

I was just about to post that Joel on Software issue. It seems at least a few of us read the same blogs.

Here's the money quote:

"When you try to measure people's performance, you have to take into account how they are going to react. Inevitably, people will figure out how to get the number you want at the expense of what you are not measuring, including things you can't measure, such as morale and customer goodwill."

Basically, you have to be very careful about what you measure. For example, you wouldn't want to just measure DPS for raid classes. This would encourage, for example, all the Warlocks to put up Curse of Agony instead of Curse of Elements. Curse of Agony maximizes their personal DPS. Curse of Elements maximizes raid DPS. Basically there are many ways to maximize personal DPS at the expense of the group. Who wants to lend a pot to the guy who happened to forget this week when that will mean more rewards to the forgetful and less to the one that remembers?

The only meaningful solution is to get a bunch of people who realize that it's a team effort, are motivated to help the team, and are capable. Managing people who don't have any one of those three things is why there are thousands of books on management.

RocknOats said...

I love this blog for these discussions! Obviously, any singular solution(40 hr week, contract, overtime, etc.) does not work. Why not a combination? You work 40hrs, get paid for overtime, and receive bonuses for exemplary production. Your hourly wages would be less, but that would only distress the M+S because they would avoid overtime and could never produce well enough to earn an incentive. So, if going in you know you will work harder(overtime) or better(incentives) than the next guy or an M+S, you’d have no problem accepting this format. Now, the interesting thing about this, it requires the supervisor to have enough ability and wherewithal to judge his employees fairly and accurately. Not to mention having the balls to tell someone they aren’t good enough for a bonus or to keep their job. God forbid someone criticizes an employee these days. This is like the system Walt Disney employed before the M+S sicced the unions on him and forced him to support them. He would grossly underpay his artists and sure they could get better pay somewhere else, but if you could excel and make his product better(what else does a real employer want?) he would bonus you up the yinyang, not to mention give you the chance to excel at what you love and truly see what a wonderful product you helped make. AND he was man enough to tell the M+S to shape up or beat it if they didn’t deserve a bonus or a job. But if he knew you were valuable he would find a way to use you-and you would be paid in full. This speaks to the other post attached to this one: You were only as valuable as the value you brought-and everyone loved it, except the M+S. This is why the M+S bitch about a true employment system, they know they have no value so they cannot allow such a system to exist. Now as far as the Corporate system, to me, this is what it looks like when the M+S win…

phoenixboy said...

Your idea is good, but kinda hard to apply. First you would need to define and separate all the things that every single employee needs to do. Think about it, in how many small jobs you could divide your main job? (and theres the fact that your to-do list can vary a lot from day-to-day).

Second, the boss could say that a job is being his servant, and you cant do any other jobs unless you do that one. Ok wild exageration,but you get the idea.

Third, that system is way too slow-reacting for emergencies like having to do this extra thing now. Heck, as ive said is slow even for daily operations.

Finally, it neds to be a system that is well thought before putting it, or as others have said, its going to be exploited faster than you can said "killed by a DK"

Anonymous said...

You missed another reason why it is rare and isn't quite as simple.

Paying for results can lead to a decrease in quality.

If I can produce 5 low quality monsers in the time it takes someone else to produce 1 high quality monster I will get paid 5 times the amount they are but my monsters suck. Where is the incentive for the person creating a quality monster?

The real problem with paying for results is how do you measure quality and not just quantity?

Catalin said...

@Jezebeau: I don't know if after the latest patches they keep giving rep past Revered. However, what I said is valid if they do not. If they do, it's even easier. Here's why this works...

Complete the two quests (and prereqs) that allow you to collect feathers and beads from the furlborgs you kill, but DO NOT turn them in.

Reach Revered only from killing said furlborgs, then turn in all the feathers and beads you collected to this point. Unless you were extremely unlucky, the amount of feathers you have will make you ding exalted.

Simple :)

Nils said...

The solution is not a big bonus, because they most often are (much!) too hard to define.
The real solution is to have people working for you who are PROUD to work for you and PROUD to achieve something together.

That is the evolutionary reason for this strange thing: Proudness

All human tribes, teams, groups etc. always needed proudness to achieve something great. It applies to national proud (realize what it can achieve: World wars, Chinese Walls, putting men on the moon....)

There is no realistic way except for some very specific and trivial things (like WoW farming - not even WoW raiding, that's already too complicated) to achieve something great without proud and people who identify themselves with the group they work for.