We’re Working Harder ‘Extraordinary’ jump in U.S. productivity

By Randi F. Marshall, Staff Writer – Newsday

For 20 years, Anthony Lubrano has worked for Con Edison, mostly in the field as an electrical engineer. But in the past few years, Lubrano has found himself taking on a host of additional responsibilities, from paperwork that used to be done by administrative assistants to engineering assessments that other colleagues once per-

On top of that, he and the rest of his team have watched their territory double in size, to compensate for the .number of positions Con Edison eliminated in recent years.
“Because we have less people, we find ourselves having to do more,” said Lubrano, 43, of Smithtown. “In a way, it’s good because more productive. But it’s also a little more difficult to do certain jobs.”

More work also means Lubrano has less energy and time to spend with his wife, Angela, and two young children – Joseph, age 2, and Gabriella, who is just 6 weeks old. “When they’re this young, it’s time you really want to spend with them,” he said. “It is tough. But my whole weekend and my whole evening is around them.”

Lubrano’s story is certainly not unusual, or even surprising. And it illustrates the incredible growth in productivity of, American workers, which soared. by a staggering 9.4 percent in the third quarter. That’s the highest increase in 20 years, according to the U.S. Labor Department, which released the data. Productivity measures the amount an employee produces – widgets made, burgers served or customer questions answered-per hour of work.

“This surge in productivity is unique and extraordinary,” said chief economist Mark M. Zandi, with Economy.com in West Chester, Pa. “But it’s not atypical. Until businesses believe that any pickup in demand and production is for real, they have asked their workers to work harder.”
To be sure, some of the burst was powered by better technology and smarter workers who have learned how to use-it. And economists cheered, the-results yesterday: Productivity gains, they say, lead to improved corporate profits and spending. That, in turn, should allow businesses to hand out raises and make it worthwhile to hire more people.

While certainly an optimistic scenario, that’s far from a guarantee, said economist Jared Bernstein, who is waiting to see whether workers reap any rewards. “These gains in productivity are beautiful to watch and an unequivocal good,” said Bernstein at the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank in Washington, D.C. “How they will ultimately be distributed is a critical, but unanswered, question.” That question may not be answered for another six months, Bernstein said. For now, the reality is simply bigger workloads, and Zandi said that’s not likely to change anytime soon: “Once productivity is where it is, there’s no going back.”

At Net at Work, a Manhattan-based information technology consulting firm, employees do reap the benefits of increased productivity – thanks to a system of bonus payments based on performance and deliverables, according to consulting services director Vera Margarita.

There, new computer systems and planning tools have helped to make workers more productive, as they on more projects and finish them faster. ” At the end, we have more satisfied customers and that translate into more sales, “Margarita said. “It’s a cost-efficient way for the company to improve its profits.”

Indeed, while most of last quarter’s gains were likely from workers doing more, part of it is also due to technology improvements. Faster, smaller, but more powerful workstations all linked to one another have helped employees at Telephonies Corp., a defense electronics company in Fanningdale, to produce more, according to information systems manage John Morga, 41.

Some experts and executives watch the pace of productivity with unease, noting that the quality of the work could suffer if employees are being asked ( work harder with fewer resources. They’re hoping that scenario improves as hiring takes hold. Yesterday’s report did show that workers’ hours in the third quarter rose 0.8 percent, the biggest increase since the first quarter of 2000. Such an increase in hours for the existing staff is often a precursor to new hiring.

And while productivity next year will likely rise at a slower clip perhaps 2 to 3 percent annually – economists said this quarter’s news bodes well.

“This positions companies pretty nicely for next year,” said Anthony Chan, the chief economist a Bane One Investment Advisors in Ohio.” We have planted the seeds for much better economic activity corporate profits and hiring next year.”

Hauppauge manufacturer Jaco Electronics is preparing for just that. “Everybody’s been battered for so long that no one is really buying the entire recovery yet until they really see it,” chief executive Joe Girsky said. “So, we work a little harder. But in the end, we’re all going to be happier.” Staff writers James Bernstein and Nat Warden contributed to this story.

Dealing With Increase

More productivity sure is good for your employer and the economy. But what about you, the worker – how do you cope?

Some advice from workplace experts:

  • “Speak up about what you think you can realistically get done,” says Bruce Davidson, vice president of Corporate Counseling Associates in Manhattan, a work/life consulting firm. That includes telling the boss “what may have to fall off the plate.” It helps to manage expectations, and other work / life experts also say it gives you more of a sense of control.
  • Redesign your .workload. Hunt out tasks that can be streamlined or dumped altogether; sometimes assignments live on long after the reason for doing them is gone. Check out time management tips in books like “First Things First,” co-authored by Stephen R. Coyey (Fireside, $14).
  • Divorce yourself from the adrenaline rush Workers, especially in the New York area, accomplish more as they pump themselves up into a frenzy. Good for your employer, perhaps, but bad for your health. That’s why stress-reduction experts tout the value of regular exercise, healthy eating and mini-meditation exercises during the workday.
  • Ask for flex-time. This helps you balance work and personal life, and gives you more control over managing your workload. A little more than a third of employers in the metro region offer some form of flex-time.
  • Look elsewhere. With the job market reviving, you may find opportunities that weren’t there just a few months ago.

– Patricia Kitchen