There is an advertisement for a popular car company playing on television right now. In the ad, a young man gets on the elevator and as the elevator closes, he is met with curious stares. The narrator says, “Since when did leaving work on time become a sign of courage?” I don’t really care what the rest of the ad says or what they are trying to sell me. The point for me was in that line. Many organizations have, unfortunately, come to epitomize this philosophy–valuing the time spent “working” more than the actual work that is being done.
This is nothing new. I worked for a large organization several years ago where a high ranking VP was quoted on many occasions as stating that for his group, full-time was 50 hours or more each week. Today, almost 50% of all workers in the US have said that they put in more than 50 hours at the office on a regular basis.
What is More Valuable? Time or Achievement?
Does all this extra work pay off? Not so much. According to a recent study by John Pencavel at Stanford University, the opposite is true. Pencavel found that the 50 hour mark is the tipping point for reduced productivity. Once you pass 50 hours, output declines rapidly. At 55 hours, there is a steep drop off.
So why do so many managers insist on using this a a metric for high performance? We would say it is because it is the easiest way for a manager to assess their people without having to expend too much effort. If I look at an outlook calendar and it is full of back to back appointments, or if I walk by someone’s desk at quarter past six, that’s a sign of hard work. Right?
How Can You Avoid this Type of Culture
The answer to this type of management? Ricardo Semler of Semco in Brazil had one approach. In his book, Maverick, Semco is described as an organization where employees are encouraged to sit in different locations at various times throughout the work week. They are told to change locations, work outside, and even spend some time working from a hammock. The reason? It makes it much harder for the managers to “check up” on employees and manage based on hours worked rather than output. At Semco, as long as you are getting your job done, it doesn’t matter when or where you are.
Wouldn’t it be great if more organizations adopted this philosophy? Employees would feel like their work is valued more than their time. Rested employees are more enthusiastic about the work they are doing and that will translate to to their interactions with each other and customers.
When employees are trusted to make their own decisions about when and where they work, they tend to work harder when they are working. I had a conversation once with an HR leader from a tech company in Denver. He told me that when a big customer project approached a deadline, it wasn’t unheard of for employees to be in the office day and night to meet the deadline. When the work was complete, however, you might find the same group at an afternoon baseball game at Coors Field. Nobody had to tell the employees to do either of those things. They just knew it was appropriate for where they were in their work cycle.
And everyone was happy!