Many business leaders still champion the idea that an employee who won’t stay late to get the job done isn’t a team player. The person who gets up from their desk first at the end of a shift is seen as the one least committed to the job. We value time served over quality of work, results and personal effectiveness. It breeds a toxic culture of resentment where people feel they have to stay late and do it through gritted teeth while watching to see which of their co-workers is brave enough to leave first; thus attracting attention and opening up a path to freedom for the rest.
**Newsflash – hours served in work do not trump quality of work, results or indeed sustainability**
We go to work more than anything else we do in our lifetimes. We’ll spend over 1/3 of our lives in work. Factor in commuter time and really, we’re asking a heck of a lot from people while they often get little back in return. I mean that. Given what people sacrifice and miss out on in their lives in order to earn, what is for most, a modest wage the return on their investment of time and effort is not proportionate. Those couple of hours they have in the evening to see their kids growing up their employer often expects them to cut into because they under-resourced a team to keep costs down or maximise profit. They’re lucky if they are offered overtime rates to do so. Hey, I get it. Businesses need to be commercially viable if they’re to have a future and people don’t start companies so they can not be profitable. But, who is this really benefiting? And could companies actually be more profitable because they look after their people?
What started out once as an urgent necessity to meet a deadline becomes the norm quickly. Business is the priority; life takes a back seat. When an employee has done it once it’s then an expectation, they’ll always do it. But slowly and surely these long shifts and late nights take their toll. Our employees’ mental and physical well-being suffers. Their performance begins to suffer too. Next, they’re taking time off sick, sometimes because they have actually reached exhaustion, and sometimes because they’ve become so disillusioned with their work and life that they need a break. They return to work and the cycle repeats. Our customers’ experience of our products and services suffers. Our staff sickness levels increase. Our staff attrition levels increase. Our recruitment costs increase. Our talent brand becomes tarnished. We find it more difficult to attract and attain top candidates. In short, we self-sabotage when we don’t look after our people. And it’s real.
‘Our analysis shows that employees who frequently experience burnout are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 23% more likely to visit the emergency room’
If the goal is to have a high performing team, we should want our people to have a healthy work life balance. We should encourage it so they arrive into work each day refreshed, recharged and revitalised ready to hit the ground running. All kinds of creativity sparks from the supercomputer we each have in our heads when we’re happy and healthy. But people aren’t happy and healthy, they’re anxious, they’re exhausted and they’re under-performing. We only need to look at the UK’s productivity in comparison with other European countries to see evidence of this.
According to the Office for National Statistics, the UK has the largest productivity puzzle (the difference between post and pre-downturn productivity performance) at around double the average across the rest of the G7. According to the Financial Times, ‘the aggregate productivity performance of the UK economy since the financial crisis of 2007-08 has been its worst by far since 1860.’ An interesting point to note here is that British employees work significantly more hours than the EU average, yet are substantially outperformed. Full time workers in Britain work an extra 2.5 weeks a year in comparison with the EU average. And yet, TUC report that:
‘Britain’s “long-hours culture” is not having a positive impact on productivity. In similar economies to ours, workers are much more productive for each hour they work. For example, full-time employees in Germany work 1.8 hours a week less than those in the UK but are 14.6% more productive. And in Denmark – the EU country with the shortest hours – workers put in over four hours less than UK workers, but productivity in Denmark is 23.5% higher.’
We ran one of our #NITDF (Northern Ireland Talent Development & Retention Forum) events a few months ago where we had a guest speaker all the way from New Zealand, Charlotte Lockhart from The 4 Day Week Global. Charlotte shared with us the findings of their research from trials into working a day less per week. For those opportunists who see this as a great way to cut the wage bill this is a ‘four day same pay’ movement – and it doesn’t mean increasing the length of the four shifts to make up for the fifth either. The results are outstanding.
While travelling on a flight Charlotte’s partner, Andrew Barnes, had been reading an article in The Economist which declared British employees are only productive for 2.5 hours of a shift. That sounds insane! But yet we know presentee-ism costs businesses more money each year than absenteeism, so maybe it’s not that outrageous?
Andrew, CEO of Perpetual Guardian, decided to do something about it. He wanted his employees coming to work healthy and happy so they could commit, focus and deliver great results. Their trial of reducing the work week to four days so employees could have more time to recharge their batteries, spend time with families, socialise and actually have a work/ life balance came with a caveat – performance must remain the same. His pitch, we’ll give you an extra day off a week – but you must achieve your objectives to take advantage of it. Not only did performance remain the same, it actually increased with a workforce working a day less!
The Perpetual Guardian story raises questions. Have we got it all wrong? Is flogging a dead horse the wrong approach? Are we measuring the wrong things? Should our focus be on output, results and should our measure of success be impact rather than time served? Instead of checking over peoples’ shoulders and disciplining them for being 2 minutes late coming back from the loo, should we be encouraging more autonomy, more flexibility, cultivating career experiences that get the best from people and kicking them out the door when the bell rings?
If we want high performance, should our priority in fact be the well-being of our teams? And at a time like this, when we’re looking for every competitive advantage to help us bounce back from the financial impact of lockdown, could the well-being of our employees be as important as anything?
‘76% of employees experience burnout in the job’
If you want to know how your employees are experiencing work, check out mooqi – our cultural evaluation platform. The insights mooqi provides can facilitate a better performing business by shaping a better business culture.
How important do you believe employee well-being is to bouncing back from lockdown? Have your say in the comments!