Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Snowball Effect

Let me begin by saying that although the entire Northeast corridor of the United States is on lock down due to severe blizzards in recent days... this blog has nothing to do with the weather. :)
Sitting atop my virtual perch as CEO of Fast Pitch!, I have a unique perspective of the ebb and flow of business activity (particularly small business) happening around the world.With hundreds of thousands of professionals logging into Fast Pitch! on any given day to perform a wide variety of business processes including: networking, writing press releases, creating email marketing campaigns, etc... we're a pretty good barometer for gauging the world's work ethic. Right now, our barometer is showing a disturbing trend - people are working less each passing week.
When we first launched Fast Pitch! a little over four years ago, we were burning the candle at both ends. We worked really hard, all hours of the day, everyday, regardless of whether it was a late Friday afternoon, or the weekend before a major holiday... every waking moment was viewed as an opportunity to attract a new member and capture market share. Looking back, I would say we were a bit naive in those early months as it became apparent that certain days brought diminishing returns.
For example, in 2007 it was safe to assume that the attentiveness of our market (small business professionals), declined by 75% as soon as lunchtime on a Friday rolled around. Remember, in 2007, the recession had not hit yet... credit was plentiful, etc... who could argue with people 'checking out' early on a Friday to start their weekend? As a hungry entrepreneur starving for new business I didn't like the fact that my work week was being forced to end at noon on a Friday, but I understood why it was happening.

Now fast forward to 2010... the recession is in full swing. Small business owners are getting pinched harder than perhaps any other identifiable group. Credit has dried up, people aren't spending, people aren't buying... Heck, people aren't working! The days of long weekends are officially over, right?
Think again...
Not only are people working less... there are some days when they are not showing up at all! Fridays are now the new Saturdays. Mondays... are the new Sundays. The weekend now officially begins on Thursday afternoon. I'm not making this up... Here's my evidence.
Fast Pitch! has a very sophisticated marketing process which includes everything from highly targeted (and timely) email marketing, telemarketing, internal messaging and more. After having marketed to millions of people worldwide for nearly five years now, we know within a few percentage points what our return on any given campaign will be. Everything from how many people will typically open a message, answer a phone, call us back, etc.... all of which are pretty good indicators of how attentive the business world might be at any given moment.
We've sent marketing messages on every imaginable day and time to every conceivable type of person on all four corners of the globe. In other words, we try to capture your attention both when you expect it and when you least expect it.
The results of all of this marketing activity have produced one consistent trend. The work week is now officially fifteen hours long. In other words, the 'window' to capture people's attention lasts for a total of 15 hours and they are Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday between 9AM and 2PM. Efforts to market outside of those times result in diminishing returns the more you deviate from that five hour window on those three days. Planning to send an email newsletter on Friday afternoon... and you're not in the hospitality industry? Don't waste your time.
So why, despite the worst economic downturn since The Great Depression, is the work week continuing to shrink? My theory is that we're witnessing a 'snowball effect'.

Snowball effect is a figurative term for a process that starts from an initial state of small significance and builds upon itself, becoming larger (graver, more serious), and perhaps potentially dangerous or disastrous (a vicious circle, a "spiral of decline").

In other words, the lackadaisical work ethic many people developed when times were good are still in motion - causing everyone else (whether they like it or not) to internalize those same work habits. "If I work 12 hours on a Friday and see no return, I might as well start my weekend at 5PM on Thursday like everyone else"... and so on. This has the formula for disaster written all over it, when those people who want to work more, become frustrated and they themselves essentially 'give up' and conform to those same work habits.
So... what will be the catalyst that changes this trend. Or will our collective work ethic just continue to deteriorate? Time will tell.
One thing I do know... the larger a snowball gets, the harder it is to move.


An interesting graph showing the decline of the average work week in the United States. Obviously, a 10% unemployment rate (probably closer to 15% if you count under employment) affect the numbers during our current recession. However, during 'good times' the numbers have declined as well.


Anonymous Patrick Luczak said...

I believe you make some valid points, certainly worth consideration.

To the issue of hours, I would add that the Department of Labor's figures are highly misleading, due to the market's trend to side-step benefits through part-time employees. So, someone might be working two, perhaps three part-time jobs with no representation for the number of hours towards a work week (instead of one person working 37 hours it might show three people working 15, 16, and 6 hours).

Furthermore, I believe that the unemployment rate is higher than we believe (since most indicators show "new" unemployment applications). Many unemployed have fallen under the radar.

Lastly, your assessment of lack of responsiveness may be accurate. However, with virtual work, programmers often work four ten hour days, with three days off, almost consistent with your identified pattern. Perhaps shop keepers are more active "on the floor" near the weekends to maximize the contribution of each and every customer.

Anyhow, I'm not so sure that it represents a reduction in the work week. I'm more inclined to believe that it's a re-arrangement of the work week that we have not fully recognized.

Thank you for your earnest and forthright communications. You certainly make salient points in your presentation.

I believe we are all being "snowballed" with the onus of health care costs, energy costs, reduction in pay and benefits,

10:16 AM  
Blogger Fast Pitch! said...

Patrick - I believe you are accurate as far as your assessment of people's working hours being re-arranged vs. working less. I probably didn't phrase it correctly... and didn't really mean to imply a lack of 'work ethic' as the only reason for the shift in activity. I agree, all of the external forces you mention are probably causing people to become even more 'distracted' and perhaps less focused.

Nonetheless, there's definitely a smaller window of opportunity during the week to reach people these days - about 1/2 of what it used to be. For many, I think an overall level of frustration exists, causing a degree of disenchantment during the fringe days of the work week.

11:48 AM  
Anonymous Angelina Sereno said...

Great article and information. I think it's sad but very true that work ethic is on the decline. How did they come up with the figures for that graph?

1:15 PM  
Anonymous Mark Bartz said...

Hey Bill,

Great stuff - very insightful.

6:30 AM  
Anonymous Wes said...

Hey Bill,
Great information to know. I think the key takeaway here is scheduling your newsletters and such during those 15 hours.

Considering the data you have at your fingertips via the FastPitch! network, I definitely won't be taking your tips here lightly.


7:38 PM  

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