Whether you’re fresh out of college or starting a brand new job, the desire to impress your manager and showcase your devotion to your job can lead to long hours at the office. Millennials in particular have popularized “hustle culture,” a form of excessive workaholism that glamorizes seemingly round-the-clock productivity.
The idea that employees have to work long hours to impress their managers has come under fire in recent years. Long hours and poor work life balance routinely leads to burnout, mental and physical health problems, and making avoidable mistakes at work. And long hours don’t necessarily make you a better employee: a recent study indicated that managers can’t tell the difference between employees who work 80 hours per week, and those who simply pretend to.
Should employees work longer hours than their managers? Experts agree: excessively long hours are not productive for employees or their managers. Read on for insight from business leaders who agree that balance and quality should be your goals, not long hours.
Lead By Example
“Managers should set a good example for a healthy work-life balance. Junior employees often don’t want to leave before their managers because they’re worried it will look bad. If you’re a manager, try to be out the door at a reasonable hour, and resist sending after hours emails unless absolutely necessary. Employee burnout is costly to the company and stressful for your team. As a manager, your team will take cues from you, so make sure you’re sending the right messages and maintaining a good balance.” – Jordan Duran, Founder and Designer at 6 Ice
Quantity Does Not Equal Quality
“It’s a mistake to assume that someone who is working longer hours is necessarily doing better work. In fact, there’s a lot of research that indicates productivity and quality begins to decline after a certain number of hours. Focus on the quality of your work, not the number of hours spent at the office. And remember that work-life balance is crucial, not just for our mental and physical health, but for our productivity as well. You’ll produce better quality work if you’re maintaining a healthy balance and coming to the office refreshed.” – Chris Gadek, Head of Growth at AdQuick
Adjust Work Schedules
“Unsustainable work hours is typically a sign of an organizational problem, and shouldn’t be encouraged. Industry practices vary, but there has to be a realistic understanding of what can be accomplished without burning people out. Adjust work schedules, if necessary, and break up long shifts if people are regularly staying late. For some industries, it can be helpful to rotate employees more often to make sure they get enough time off. People typically aren’t efficient or productive after a certain point, so make sure you prioritize health and balance.” – Riley Burke, Growth Marketing Manager at Ohza
Adopt Realistic Timelines
“Managers should be on the lookout for burnout, and adjust timelines if employees aren’t able to complete tasks on time. Be realistic about how long it will take to complete a project or task, and communicate often to make sure you can adjust the timeline if needed. It’s important to create a company culture that prioritizes communication and balance, so that your team feels comfortable raising concerns about their workload.” – Ann McFerran, CEO of Glamnetic
“Overwork tends to lead to more mistakes, and it ends up hurting productivity over time. When people are exhausted and overworked, they tend to miss important details or misread situations that require tact and precision. If you want to be a strong member of your team, maintain a reasonable schedule and take time off to rest and recharge. You’ll spend less time correcting mistakes and apologizing for misunderstandings if you’re working reasonable hours.” – Jason Sherman, Founder of TapRm
Manage Your Time Effectively
“If someone is continually working longer hours than everyone else, there may be a time management issue. It might appear that they’re being more productive, but really they’re just catching up on work from earlier in the week. If your workload is reasonable, and you’re continually staying late at work, take some time to assess the way you manage your time. There are a lot of resources that can help with time management, whether it’s project management software or calendar reminders, and it can help you stay on task and make sure you’re finishing your work within a reasonable timeframe.” – Miles Beckett, CEO and Co-Founder of Flossy
Delegate Work Fairly
“If someone always works long hours, whether it’s a manager or a junior employee, it’s possible the workload isn’t being delegated fairly. This can happen for a number of reasons, but it’s important for the employee to speak up and let their managers know their workload has become excessive. It may require a restructure, or simply a reallocation of resources, but it’s never ideal to have someone working long hours. When work is delegated fairly, every member of the team should feel that they can accomplish their tasks without routinely working late into the night.” – Ted Toledano, Founder of Modloft
Balance Benefits Everyone
“Some employees think that being a work martyr will make their team stronger, but it can actually be harmful to morale and productivity. When one team member always works long hours, it puts pressure on the rest of the team to work late too, and it will frequently lead to burnout and mistakes. A good sense of balance will benefit everyone, and it’s helpful to remind your team that they should take their vacation time and recharge frequently. Although some long hours may be unavoidable from time to time, it shouldn’t be a regular occurrence.” – Katie Kiernan, Co-Founder of Nue Life
“Working long hours, regardless of whether you are a manager or lower level employee, can lead to burnout and less productivity. Employees should be working enough hours to get their responsibilities done without being overwhelmed and stressed. Working longer hours can eventually lead to health issues for employees, like stress, exhaustion, and even heart problems for employees, which leads to rising costs in insurance for companies. Managers and employees should work together to decide how many hours need to be worked to complete work in a reasonable amount of time.” – Nathalie Walton, Co-Founder and CEO of Expectful
“There are a lot of negative health outcomes associated with overwork, and it should be avoided both for employees and managers. In the short term, long hours may lead to ergonomic issues for employees who are engaging in repeated motions. Workplaces have to prioritize health for the entire team, and that means adopting reasonable schedules and work hours. If someone is always working late, it’s a sign that they may be overworked and their work load should be reevaluated.” – Will Watters, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Western Rise
Long Hours Don’t Equal Devotion
“Employees may feel that they have to work around the clock to signal their job devotion to their managers. This simply isn’t true. Prioritizing a healthy work-life balance shows your team that you are a well rounded person who is committed to long term health and productivity. It shows that you have healthy boundaries, and want to be a successful employee in the future, not just for the next few months. If managers regularly drive their employees to work long hours, that may require a thoughtful discussion about how the workload is organized and delegated.” – Rachel Jones, Head of PR at Hope Health
“It can be difficult to self-regulate when you really love your job, especially if you’re just starting out or building a new business. Although you might find yourself unable to tear yourself away from your computer, it’s important to take time to recharge and get some distance from your work. Not only will it make you better at your job, but it will set a good example for your team. When you consistently work long hours, you send the message to your team that they should do the same. Eventually your employees will get burned out. Make sure you set the tone from the top and self-regulate when you feel like working around the clock.” – Mike Pasley, Founder of Allegiant Goods
“Long work hours are often counterproductive. Ford Motor Company proved this in the 1990s through a series of studies that showed every additional 20 hours of work above the recommended 40 hours resulted in an increase in productivity only for three to four weeks before productivity turned negative. If you consistently work long hours, you get burned out and inevitably start falling behind in your duties. Productivity declines and you have to spend more hours trying to catch up on neglected tasks.” – David K. William, Founding Editor of WebWriterSpotlight.com
Begin the Day With the End in Mind
“This sounds basic, but I’m convinced that many people don’t leave work on time simply because they don’t set the expectation that they will. Instead, they simply go with the flow of the workday, working on whatever comes their way and neglecting to block time on their calendar for priority work. Then, at the end of the day, there’s still a pile of work to do—all because they didn’t plan for 5 PM. So, when you arrive in the morning, identify the time you want to leave that night. Put it on your calendar, set an alarm on your mobile phone, or simply make a psychological commitment to that departure time. – Lea McLeod, Coach and Consultant at LeaMcLeod.com
Everyone experiences periods of overwork, but if you’re regularly logging long hours it may be time to reassess how you’re approaching your workload. Workaholism is the norm in many industries, and it can be hard to clock out if everyone around you is still firing off emails. If you’re regularly working long hours, have an honest conversation with your team about how your workload can be effectively managed for long-term productivity. A large body of research indicates that if you want to be a better employee in the long run, you should maintain a reasonable schedule that prioritizes a healthy balance.
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