Step by step ... Esme O'Neill-Dean, left, and Julie Wells, leave the emails behind on their daily jog through the Botanic Gardens. Photo: Jon Reid
One of the world's leading corporate advice firms has found a novel way to get more from its workers for less: switch off their smartphones and send them home early.
Management consultants were notorious for exhaustive hours and intensive work patterns long before they could work anywhere, any time with smartphones and iPads. But Boston Consulting Group is pushing back against the 24-hour work culture. It measures workers' success in part by how reliably they meet personal commitments.
Getting to a child's school play or making a date night has become a work key performance indicator. The Harvard University professor Leslie A Perlow's prescription for ''predictable time off'' started with a night off a week for workers in the Boston head office several years ago and has spread to most of BCG's 75 offices around the world, including to Australia 18 months ago.
The scheme to switch ''workaholics'' to ''successaholics'' is credited with making the workplace more human and its 5600 staff worldwide happier and more productive. The Economist says the program, in Perlow's book Sleeping with Your Smartphone - How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work, ''should be taken seriously''. Forbes lauds it as ''genius''.
''It has put on the table the idea that we actually have lives outside BCG'' Grant McCabe, the Melbourne partner in charge of PTO in Australia, says. When he joined the firm, junior members would stay at work until the partner they worked for had left. Now partners ''lead by example'' and the juniors ''are quite comfortable walking out even if the partner is still there''. Employees are more likely to admonish each other for being ''on'' than ''off''.
Before starting a new case this week, Esme O'Neill-Dean, an associate in the Sydney office, tells her team ''it is very important for me to spend a couple of mornings every week doing some exercise''. They agreed she would come in later on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and her team would not schedule early morning meetings then. She says the program has made her feel ''a lot more in control'' of her work.
In Australia, PTO has come to stand for ''predictability, teaming and open communication'' to reflect how it has spurred teams to work better together to set and meet goals in and outside the office. Participants initially protested they needed to be ''always on'' in case the client contacted them but Perlow demonstrated it was the demands of colleagues rather than clients that unnecessarily amplified work pressure.
PTO facilitator Julia Wells says 95 per cent of surveyed employees reported a ''really positive'' experience, and PTO was proving an advantage in retention and recruitment. One consultant is free to pursue her interest in photography from 7 to 8.30 each morning; another gets an hour a day to write his novel.
Mr McCabe said the firm did not make up excuses to clients about absences but instead explained the program. Clients were ''typically really excited'' and interested in how they can apply it, he said.