Book review: The Way We're Working Isn't Working, by Schwartz/ Gomes/ McCarthy

The authors have a refreshing take on the world of work, says Octavius Black.

by
Last Updated: 25 Oct 2010

The Way We're Working Isn't Working: The four forgotten needs that energize great performance
Tony Schwartz with Jean Gomes and Catherine McCarthy
Simon & Schuster £12.99

At the tender age of six, my father warned me that all is not what it seems. It was true of Mrs Seashells, my nursery school teacher, who seemed so kind but was actually high on pot, and it was true of Concerned George, who sold me my first pension, which turned out to be 90% commission for the first two years.

It is also true of The Way We're Working Isn't Working by Tony Schwartz et al.

The good news is that, whereas my father's warning was intended to avoid disappointment, in the case of this book it is a great relief. The Way We're Working Isn't Working is well worth reading.

Chapter one starts with a petulant attack on corporations' lack of care for their employees. With the shrill tub-thumping of a student blog, Schwartz rails against 'the defining ethic in the modern workplace', where brutal employers are interested only in how to get more for less from their employees and where hours worked is the overriding measure of value and contribution. At The Mind Gym, we are working with O2, Sainsbury's, British Gas, RBS, Unilever, among others. None of them resembles Schwartz's sweatshops. In fact, they all invest significantly in making their employees' lives more balanced, as well as more productive.

As Schwartz points out later, it is impossible to be angry for more than 90 seconds unless you want to be. And so it is with the author. His tirade is largely over by page 21 and thereafter we have a thoughtful, practical and insightful guide to how to look after ourselves.

The structure of the book is based on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. This is psychology for beginners and if that was where he left it there wouldn't be much to offer. Instead, we are treated to robust and compelling research that will force most of us to re-evaluate our habits. It is divided into four sections: sustainability/body; security/emotions; self-expression/mind; and significance/spirit.

'Body' is the longest section, brimming with reasons to take regular breaks by working in 90-minute bursts, sleep more, eat healthily, take regular exercise and match tasks to our natural energy levels. This may sound worthy yet familiar. The difference lies in the battery of facts, examples and compelling evidence that Schwartz brings to support his recommendations.

Take sleep, which Schwartz believes 'more fundamentally influences our effectiveness... than any other behaviour... even more than diet, exercise and heredity'.

He supports this assertion with:

(a) Medical facts

The hormone melatonin, which induces sleep, is almost non-existent in our bodies during daytime and has its peak between 11pm and 3am. Challenging these circadian rhythms by working nights or travelling across time zones reduces cognitive capacity and productivity and promotes emotional instability.

(b) Psychological research

Studies at Stanford University with sport teams showed that extending normal sleep consistently im- proved performance.

We say we sleep on average 7.5 hours but the reality (measured by wearing sleep-sensitive wristbands) is 6.1 hours (against a minimum need of seven hours).

In a study of 80,000 nurses, those with chronic sleep deprivation were significantly more likely to suffer from heart disease than those who slept even six hours - who, in turn, were significantly more at risk than those with seven hours' sleep a night.

After two weeks of sleeping six hours a night, we have the same cognitive capacity as someone who has gone for 48 hours without sleep.

(c) Personal examples

These are mainly drawn from the coaching Schwartz and his team have done with senior executives at the likes of Sony, Ernst & Young and Wachovia bank.

After a lifetime of six hours' sleep a night, Peter Goettler, who headed Barclays Capital investment banking until 2008, agreed to go to bed at 10pm rather than 11pm and to get up at 5.30am rather than 5am. 'I would never have believed that an hour more sleep would make such a difference,' he enthused as he discovered that sleeping more meant he achieved more.

Sleep is one of 15 chapters, each well supported with evidence and devoted to specific habits that we would be wise to adopt.

However, for all its thorough research, credible and valuable examples and advice that is mostly well worth taking, this is a sophisticated self-help book rather than a polemic on the failings of modern employers.

- Octavius Black is managing director of The Mind Gym. Find out more about The Mind Gym and MT's Management Masterclass at managmenttoday.com/masterclass

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