There is a long-held view in many business environments that if you have a great deal of work to complete, then you must work as many hours as necessary to complete it. No questions asked.
There is, however, a counter-argument that has been gaining more and more traction today. Longer hours do not necessarily mean greater productivity.
It is not uncommon for office workers in high-pressure positions to work 10-14 hour days. The negative effects include:
- poor eating habits
- lack of exercise
- less time with family and friends
- decreased emotional wellbeing
Not a pretty picture, is it? Responding to increased demands at work by working consistently longer hours drains us physically, mentally and emotionally. This, in turn, creates increased distraction, higher turnover, lower engagement and lower productivity.
For example, countries such as South Korea and Japan possess a culture where it is the norm to work long hours (12 or more a day). Despite this, their measure of GDP output per hour is surprisingly low. They recognise this issue and are taking measures to improve their staff’s work life balance by carrying out extreme actions such as turning off the office lights at 5:30pm sharp.
Organisations are also taking steps to address this problem. A 200 person business in New Zealand called Perpetual Guardian underwent a 8-week experiment in which staff worked 4 day weeks with no change to their salary or pay conditions. Workers were measured as being 20% more satisfied with their job and life in general. Productivity and performance increased, and the same amount of work was completed as during a 5-day work week.
Similar trials have been completed with a shorter work day rather than a shorter work week, with comparable results. Productivity and work satisfaction increased, while stress and sick days decreased.
Office workers typically follow the rule of Parkinson’s Law – “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” Therefore, with less time to complete a task, people become more efficient at getting it done by prioritising effectively.
This doesn’t mean management should view staff as being lazy or believe they would get more done if they prioritised better and fixated unwaveringly on tasks. This could not be further from the truth.
Time is a finite resource. Energy, however, is slightly different.
Energy can be conserved and restored by following certain habits and routines. What this means is that if businesses stop focusing on the number of hours people work and instead encourage them to invest more in their day-to-day wellbeing, there can be immensely beneficial effects.
The key to maintaining a healthy work life balance and being more productive at work is understanding that it is in fact energy and not time that dictates how good the quality of output of a staff member will be.
It’s more valuable to focus on reducing energy-depleting negative behaviours like the ones listed in the beginning of this article and instead concentrate on energy regeneration activities such as:
Proper sleeping habits (at least 7 hours)
Eating a healthy lunch away from your desk
Going for a morning/afternoon stroll
Drinking less coffee/alcohol
Companies invest in developing their employees’ skills, knowledge and competencies – so why not also help them create and maintain positive routines that keep their energy levels high and, therefore, allow them to sustain a higher level of productivity and engagement?
If you need to work late on an assignment, perhaps the next day you come in later or finish earlier. Give your energy reserves time to recover - otherwise, you and the work will suffer. If you’re feeling better and your mind is sharper, you are more likely to be more efficient and innovative in your tasks.
We work so we can live our lives; we don’t live to work constantly. This is not to say we don’t work hard and strive to achieve our goals, but we shouldn’t do so at the cost of other aspects of our lives. The irony being, if we do work like that, we are probably delivering sub-optimal results and won’t get the rewards we expect for all our hard work.
So take time for yourself, don’t spend hours on end in the office and maintain healthy habits - not only will you feel better, but you’ll perform better as well.