I admit, it’s quite a strong title to this blog post… but I feel that it is worthy. Why? Because I continually encounter a mentality that if you work ridiculous hours, you should be celebrated for your amazing work and commitment to the job. Equally, I have had people build up a perception that if someone is working their chargeable hours on site, even though they not only meet delivery deadlines but exceed them… they are somehow lazy and not “doing their part”.
Let me make this clear. I am incredibly passionate about my job, my career, my perception, and my delivery… but my view on this topic is quite strong.
I am going to challenge this mentality and although I am sure that this post will be widely unpopular to those workaholics who, at times, are actually rewarded for being inefficient… that goes with the territory of forming an opinion.
Let’s begin at the core of the issue. What reasons should people be working extra hours, and when is it necessary?
I am not averse to working more hours when they are required… and believe that it is part and parcel to your job in a senior or management role. However, it all comes down to workload, responsibilities, efficiency, planning, and how you are tracking with all of the above.
When should and shouldn’t you need or be expected to work extra hours?
Reasons why it may be genuinely needed to work extra hours:
- Something goes terribly wrong in the project and the error falls in your basket to resolve. Timeframes are set and there is no way around it but to work some reasonable extra hours to get the job done
- You are not efficient enough and cannot achieve a reasonable workload in your set working hours
- You have wasted a lot of time within the schedule and now need to make that time up as you are running behind
- Everything is running behind schedule and you need to work some reasonable extra hours to catch up and get your tasks ahead of schedule
Reasons why it should not be required to work extra hours:
- Something goes wrong in the project, through an error that falls in someone else’s basket to resolve
- Your work is always done and on or ahead of time. Efficiency is a strong part of your character
- You have planned extremely well in advance and are tracking well on schedule
- Just because “others are doing it”
- To prove that you are a better worker
- To “impress” your manager or team mates
I have met many with a workaholic mentality, and I say… that’s fine! But not everyone proves their abilities by doing extra long hours continually, or should need to.
A real world scenario
In one particular role at a major institution… it got to a point where mediocrity and inefficiency was celebrated. I worked in a team where not everyone was able to complete their tasks. Some would waste a heck of a lot of time when they were able to complete their tasks, some just worked slower than others. They then came in on weekends to work, to be able to get the job done.
What was sad about this… was that it was an expectation that others (myself included) who had not only finished their tasks ahead of time, but offered to assist others during work hours, would also come in on the weekend as they were “part of the team”. If they didn’t, they would be complained about.
Then, during awards… the ones who did all those extra hours on the weekends to achieve their workload, would be awarded and celebrated.
So, what is wrong with this scenario and how did this affect everyone? Where do we begin:
- The people that are inefficient do not realise that they should improve and not be needing to work those extra hours
- Peers in the team who are more efficient and perform their job have their morale, motivation, and career affected
- Productivity is affected as a result of all of the above
- The wrong behaviours are encouraged, while the right behaviours are complained about
Why shouldn’t we just work excessive hours?
There are many answers for this and research to show and prove that not only is working longer hours bad for productivity, but it is actually dangerous for your health. Here are some highlights from some articles that should set off alarm bells for the workaholics: (Found by Googling “effects of working long hours”
According to a survey more than half the working population suffers from work related injury or ailment than those who don’t prefer working overtime. Many researches have proven that there is a connection between working overtime and the risk of developing many occupational health hazards. There was for the first time a research conducted to understand the link between the age, gender, job profile with the job itself that has established the fact that working overtime is more dangerous than working late hours.
Extended working hours and more than required time spent at the work place paves the way for health complaints and too much stress that can lead to injuries like an accident when driving. Just as the name goes, overtime in simple terms is working over the time limit and more than what is required. It is not that people spend more time at work because of tight targets but just because working for long hours makes their job profile dangerous.
There are many studies that have confirmed that working long hours can lead to health problems of which musculoskeletal disorders are common. On the other hand, functioning on moderate office timings can to a great extent reduce the risk of getting injured or falling sick.
Heart diseases, fatigue, stress, depression, chronic infections, diabetes, back aches, general health complaints and death are some of the grievances one has to face while working late and for long periods. This can only lead to staking productivity and creativity in one’s current and future projects. So it is time to change the working styles and bring a viable and legal format of working, treating everyone alike in terms of health.
Longer work hours are a risk factor for hypertension (HTN) after controlling for biological and behaviour related risk factors, occupation, and an SES Study also showed a statistically significant occupational variation in self-reported HTN.
– Fatigue and sleeping problems
– Acute injuries and accidents
– Blood pressure
– Psychological and behavioural
– Musculoskeletal disorders
– Disability retirement
– Cardiovascular disease
Shorter sleeping hours
– Shorter sleep hours if work > 50 hours per
– Pathway: lack of sleep → higher blood pressure, heart rate
– 4-6 (versus 7-8) hours/day of sleep →increased risk of heart disease
– Depression, anxiety, tension, anger, feelings of stress
– Mixed findings
Working 60 or more hours/week → 2.75 times greater risk of disability.
A nice juicy topic to wrap my writing gear around! I too have a very strong view on this little gem, and share a lot of Peter’s feelings. I was kind of hoping I would disagree so that we could debate a little. ;0) Alas, that will need to happen on a different topic (if we find one that we disagree on that is!).
I worked many years in an environment where flexibility in work was extremely poor. We had one laptop to approx. one hundred staff, so remote access was close to impossible. You were either in the office or you weren’t working. I’m happy to say that this has changed. I can now head home at a reasonable hour and spend time with my family before putting my daughter to bed and getting into some work if required. I appreciate this a great deal as those few hours with my family are precious and something that I do not want to miss, and generally refuse to.
In the former environment mentioned above I needed to leave by a certain time in order to collect my daughter from child care which I was consistently told was ‘fine’. However those that did not have such commitments were able to stay later, and were often applauded for it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all about choices. I chose to have a family and the commitments that go along with it (didn’t really know what I was getting myself in for). However, my output during my time at work was more than acceptable and often greater than those that stayed later. I can honestly say the only reason they were applauded was due to the late hour they stayed. They could have been playing solitaire the whole time! Not suggesting they were of course. ;0)
I have even experienced instances of people working ‘slow’ to force the need for overtime and therefore a greater level of pay. This of course opens up a whole area of ethics that isn’t for this post, so I’ll stop right there.
Peter has touched on many of the possible health issues related to working long hours, but given the scenario I have provided above, I’d like to write more about the negative personal feelings and morale issues it can cause.
One danger is the ill feeling towards your family. One could start to regret the choice made to have a family. If they truly believe the only way to forge ahead in their career is to work longer hours, and they can’t due to family commitments, the frustration may build towards their family. This, of course, is an extreme outcome, but a very possible one. How many times have you heard about a separation that was ‘caused’ by one member of the relationship spending too much time at work? Many I’m sure. I bet something you haven’t thought about in-depth is the reason why that person was spending so much time at work. Yes, they may just LOVE what they’re doing… but I would put money on the fact that many of them feel as though it is required of them in order to climb that corporate ladder (an often very slimy one). Everyone is different, and everyone has many different driving forces. Don’t let your personal relationships suffer. Make sure you’re seen to be doing a good job while still maintaining that balance.
What about team morale? There are SO many morale issues this can cause. I can’t possibly list them all. Family aside, there are many more reasons why an individual may not be able to work longer hours. If there output is more than sufficient, why should they be overlooked for a promotion or the like because they don’t work through to 8pm every night? Working longer hours is not the only sign of commitment. Taking pride in your work quality would be at the forefront for me, and staying later while getting tired and stressed would negatively impact that quality. If the team can see that people are being treated better or are given more opportunities because they stay late, frustration will build in no time at all. Where the team heads from there is obvious. That frustration may be pointed towards the late stayer, the boss who rewards it, or both!
I haven’t actively combated this in the past. I left the previous environment before I felt the need to… perhaps I didn’t have the motivation to combat it as I knew deep down that I was on my way out the door. I would be very interested to hear people’s comments on the subject, and what they have done to keep the balance alive!