On the Law of Diminishing Specialization by Cal Newport (Cal Newport)

Deploying a technique called work value analysis, Sassone measured not only the amount of work conducted by his subjects, but also the skill level required for the work. He found that managers and other skilled professionals were spending surprisingly large percentages of their time working on tasks that could be completed by comparably lower-level employees.

 

He identified several factors that explain this observation, but a major culprit was the rise of “productivity-enhancing” computer systems. This new technology made it possible for managers and professionals to tackle administrative tasks that used to require dedicated support staff.

 

The positive impact of this change was that companies needed less support staff. The negative impact was that it reduced the ability of managers and professionals to spend concentrated time working on the things they did best.

 

Among other examples uncovered in his case studies, Sassone highlighted:

 

A corporate marketing department where senior marketing professional were spending more than a day per week of their time preparing charts and graphs for presentations.

 

A large commercial bank where corporate bankers were devoting more than a quarter of their time to handling routine interactions with clients.
This reduction in the typical deep-to-shallow work ratio (see Rule #1 in Deep Work) became so pronounced as computer technology invaded the front office that Sassone gave it a downright Newportian name: The Law of Diminishing Specialization.

 

What makes Sassone’s study particularly fascinating is that he used rigorous data collection and analysis methods to answer the question of whether or not this diminishing specialization was a good trade-off from a financial perspective.

 

His conclusion: no.

 

Reducing administrative positions saves some money. But the losses due to the corresponding reduction in high-level employees’ ability to perform deep work — a diminishment of “intellectual specialization” — outweighs these savings.

I suspect that most of the "innovation" in how corporations hire and plan out their office spaces is driven more by the bottom line than improvements in performance.

What happens when we work non-stop (bbc.com)

The era when work ended as people left the office is long gone. Checking and answering messages from work seems unavoidable – and even desirable for some people, as they feel it allows them to outperform competitors, or to spend more time with family without losing track of their jobs. As put by a 2006 academic paper from Ian Towers, a researcher from SRH Hochschule in Berlin, mobile technology “increases expectations: managers and colleagues alike expect staff to be almost always available to do work”.

 

But being ‘on call’ is not the same as being off work, and the way our body reacts to both situations is very different. A 2016 study found that the cortisol levels (the hormone that regulates the ‘fight or flight’ reaction and plays a role in raising stress levels) of people ‘on call’ rise faster in the mornings than those of people who are not required to be available, even if they don’t end up working that day.

 

This hormone usually has its peak concentration when we wake up, and it decreases on the rest of the day. But scientists believe everyday stress factors tamper with its cycle in several ways: it rises faster when you expect a stressful day (researchers believe this may be the case here), its levels remain high if you are chronically stressed, and it does not rise if you are going through a ‘burnout syndrome’ – something usually preceded by a chronic stress period.