Marketplace: Slow Week Is Good in the Long Run

Everything in "slow mo" around your office this week? That might be a good thing for the bottom line. Marketplace's Steve Tripoli tells Noah Adams that a week of slow productivity might actually be good for business.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

And back now with DAY TO DAY.

You may be at work this week, but even many people who are at work, aren't, sort of, really. Just look around. They say this is the least-productive work weeks of the year, and this day may be the year's single least-productive workday.

Steve Tripoli of MARKETPLACE joins us. Steve, do you think it's just sort of like a holiday hangover? It's just too much fun?

STEVE TRIPOLI: Well, that's pretty much right, Noah. You know, most of the evidence is anecdotal, but there's a lot of it. All of December is traditionally slow, but this week's the worst.

One company that monitors computer network traffic says productivity's usually about 90 percent below normal today and about 50 percent below normal all this week.

ADAMS: Wow. Now, maybe it's the time to recharge batteries, right?

TRIPOLI: Well, you know, whether we need to or not, it's kind of hard to do much about having this kind of free time. A lot of folks you'd normally work with are out.

Of course, there are some exceptions. Businesses like financial services are closing their year right now, so they're not exactly taking it easy.

But you're right. There's sort of an upside, a recharging side. Richard Feinberg at Purdue University follows customer satisfaction in business. He thinks weeks like this are actually good for productivity and, by extension, customers if you're thinking across the whole year.

Mr. RICHARD FEINBERG (Purdue University): It's easy to conclude that productivity going down is a bad thing, but the fact is that a satisfied employee is more likely to be more productive overall than a dissatisfied employee. It really is the long term that we're interested in. Satisfied employees create satisfied customers and are more productive.

ADAMS: He is hopeful. Steve, this can't be unique to America. Other cultures have long sort of down periods, too.

TRIPOLI: That's true. Anyone who tries to reach a Chinese worker during New Year week over there knows that, Noah, and the same is true for the Muslim world during Ramadan, which lasts a whole month.

And I'll tell you what fascinates me, though, and again, a lot of this research is anecdotal, but one firm that follows hiring trends says Christmas season isn't even America's biggest productivity drain. I wonder if you can guess what they say it is. I'll give you a hint, it's a relatively new thing, and it's sports-related.

ADAMS: Let's try NASCAR on television.

TRIPOLI: No, not quite. It's fantasy football. That hobby reportedly saps productivity over all 17 weeks of the football season, and another big culprit is March Madness month in college basketball.

ADAMS: College basketball, to be sure. Well, it looks like we're always looking for a reason to kind of just, you know, slow down a little bit. Does anybody get any work done at the office these days?

TRIPOLI: Well, funny thing, the planet is more productive than ever, meaning that there's more work per worker being produced than ever. And I'll tell you one last interesting thing, and this doesn't even include sports-induced productivity lags. If you combine every major holiday across cultures, you'll find that the whole world is only working simultaneously about 140 days a year. But you know, somehow we muddle through.

By the way, Noah, for those with free time today, working or not, coming up later on MARKETPLACE, we'll talk about all those gift cards people start spending today. There's been explosive growth in that industry.

ADAMS: Steve Tripoli reports for public radio's daily business program MARKETPLACE. It's produced by American Public Media.

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