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Ask any accomplished entrepreneur what the key to success is and it’s likely that ‘hard work’ will feature prominently in their answer. There’s no denying that the need to graft is important, but work culture is beginning to shift away from the ‘work hard, play hard’ cliché of Wall Street, torwards a more balanced ethos.
According to the US Department of Labor, the average American takes just eight days off every year. As a result of this, workers essentially donate an average of $604 of unused vacation time to their employers every year, because this often can’t be rolled over nor can the time be paid back.
WebMD, meanwhile, claim that employees who work 61 to 70 hours per week increase their chances of heart disease by 42 percent, highlighting the profound effect that overworking has on health. It also significantly damages wellbeing and productivity, too.
These two studies point to a widespread and damaging issue within workplaces; presenteeism.
The problem with presenteeism
‘Presenteeism’ is when an employee spends more time at work than is required, and sometimes even if they are unwell and in need of rest. It has long been prevalent in the workplace, with employees being rewarded and measured on how much time they spend doing their job, regardless of whether productivity levels drop.
While contracted hours may state one thing, worker behaviour tends to stem from the culture cultivated in an organization. If there is a culture of staying late and doing overtime, employees infer that this as being the expectation, and so they put in extra hours to prove their commitment and dedication to their employer in order to avoid feelings of guilt.
This unofficial overtime has been on the rise for decades and, as a result, is largely responsible for the ‘workplace burnout’ that has become so common. The American Psychological Association estimates that 550 million workdays are lost each year due to work-related stress, highlighting the scale and severity of the issue. However, through careful management and the fostering of positive work culture, it can be fixed.
How a presenteeism-free workplace is better for everyone
It is a misconception that longer hours correspond with increased output. Like with so many things in life, there needs to be an emphasis placed on quality over quantity. Attributing a value on hours ‘seen’ working only serves to corrode productivity, and in turn business growth, while encouraging employees to enjoy their lives outside of the workplace, which in turn can have a significant effect on their productivity, could be the answer to yielding better results long-term.
It may appear paradoxical that the less time an employee spends working, the more they can achieve, but without the pressure, (whether perceived or actual) to be seen working late, productivity is likely to improve as employees begin to focus on efficiency in order to ensure they accomplish tasks within a certain timeframe. Findings by advisory firm Gallup in 2018 show that when employees are given enough time to achieve their workloads, they are 70% less prone to experiencing workplace burnout.
In Scandinavia there is a sense of trust between employees and employers. This is reflected in 2015 statistics released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which identify that Americans work an additional 312 hours per year than their counterparts in Sweden. Workers are trusted to do their job and then go home when they are done.
By taking this approach, employees are empowered to strive for a better work-life balance, allowing them to return to their desks recharged with fresh perspectives on pressing issues as well as high-level strategies. There are even calls across Europe for businesses to implement a four-day working week.
Turning the tide on ‘presenteeism’
What can actually be done to achieve this? Executives, managers, and other senior staff should lead by example in order to kick start new shifts in company culture, with employees often feeling inspired to match the habits of their superiors. Changing this maladaptive behaviour from the top, even by simply refraining from sending internal task-focused emails late in the day or evening, can have a dramatic impact within an organization.
Executives need to take charge of culture by addressing the symptoms of presenteeism. Employees should be encouraged to leave on time, and overtime shouldn’t be rewarded for the sake of it. Where possible, managers may also consider adopting a more vertical ‘Scandi’ company culture in which employees are encouraged to become their own boss.
Regardless of the route taken, new initiatives should be measured to ensure they are having the desired effect, and a good way to keep everyone on the same page, and able to voice their opinions, is by opening up dialogue around the subject. This will enable the change to grow and evolve naturally, with new ideas being suggested continually.
Creating an employee-friendly environment will not only increase productivity and give employees the valuable restorative break they need, it will also aid with recruitment and increase staff retention and longevity.
So, the next time you’re about to click ‘send’ on a non-urgent email to an employee late at night, or when a colleague starts to look visibly overworked and stressed, consider how your company can implement a more balanced and healthy approach to working.
July 8, 2019 at 11:16AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs