Category Archives: Overwork

The 30-hour workweek. Promising or pipe dream?

There is currently huge interest in the 30-hour workweek in many workplaces . But is this just a pipe dream or could it actually lead to better results, happier workplaces and less stress?

In this video I talk to Lena Rübelmann and Juliana Wolfsberger who have written a masters thesis called “The 30-hour Workweek -A Promising Alternative for Knowledge Workers?” at Lund University School of Economics and Management about their findings. My favorite: Switching to a 30-hour workweek does not reduce output. People get as much work done as they did before, even though they work fewer hours.

If you want to know more, Juliana and Lena are happy to share their findings. You can reach them here:

Other companies are finding the same thing, including Toyota Center Gothenburg, who 12 years ago, went from a normal 40-hour work week to only working 30 hours a week – and found that employee happiness, productivity, customer satisfaction and profits all went up. At our2015 Happiness at Work Conference, CEO Martin Banck explains why they made that weird decision, how they did it in practice and what has happened since then:

The Cult of Overwork is Killing Startups

The New York Times has a great article called ”In Silicon Valley, Working 9 to 5 Is for Losers” that examines workaholism in startups. It even quotes one entrepreneur as saying “I rarely get to see my kids. That’s a risk you have to take.” I wonder if he asked his kids if that was a risk they were willing to take.

The piece also quotes from this excellent article by David Heinemeier Hansson, where he points out that startup investors are the main driver of this culture:

There’s an ingrained mythology around startups that not only celebrates burn-out efforts, but damn well requires it.

It’s not hard to understand why such a mythology serves the interest of money men who spread their bets wide and only succeed when unicorns emerge.

There’s little to no consequence to them if the many fall by the wayside, spent to completion trying to hit that home run. Make me rich or die tryin’.

It’s bullshit. Extractive, counterproductive bullshit peddled by people who either need a narrative to explain their personal sacrifices and regrets or who are in a position to treat the lives and wellbeing of others like cannon fodder.

These two articles do a great job of exposing the toxic overwork culture in many startups but I just want to add five few quick points on the topic:

1: If hours are all that matter, an entrepreneur working 80 hours a week will be beaten by one working 90 hours a week. Where does it end?

2: Many of the mental qualities that make a startup successful are lost when people are overworked, tired, stressed and unhappy, including networking, creativity and effective decision making.

3: Permanent overwork kills people. For instance, those working a 55-hour week face 33% increased risk of stroke.

4: Permanent overwork doesn’t result in increased output.

5: Pointing to successful startups that worked 80 hours a week proves nothing. What about all the startups that worked 90 hours a week and failed?

Imagine starting your own company and ending up creating a workplace where you hate to work. How stupid is that?

On the other hand, employees of a startup where people are happy to work and have full lives outside of work, will be more productive, motivated and innovative, boosting the startup’s chance of success.

Even if working crazy long hours did enhance a startup’s chance of success (which it does not), it would still be wrong because it hurts employees physically and psychologically.

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How to succeed in business if you’re not a morning person

Work has moved from cow to computer, but workplaces still favour early risers and an industrial-age view of productivity.

Camilla Kring has a PhD in Work-Life Balance and as owner of Super Navigators, makes workplaces happier by increasing the Work-Life Balance of their employees. She is specialized in creating flexible work cultures that support our differences in family forms, work forms and biological rhythms.

This is her talk from the International Conference on Happiness at Work 2017 in Copenhagen. Flexibility is among the keys to well-being, and management must have the courage to address the flexibility of their company’s work culture because culture determines whether employees have the courage to make use of flexibility.

The first step is to set people free from 9-5 and that work is something that only can take place at the office. Work is not a place – it’s an ongoing activity. Second, focus more on results and less on visibility. Third, give people the tools to improve their individual Work-Life Balance.

Announcing the final 2 AMAZING speakers at our international conference

We have just announced the final 2 AWESOME speakers for our International Conference on Happiness at Work in May.

Camilla Kring: Work-Life Balance and Flexibility

Camilla Kring has a PhD in Work-Life Balance and as owner of Super Navigators, makes workplaces happier by increasing the Work-Life Balance of their employees.

She will show how flexibility is among the keys to well-being, and management must have the courage to address the flexibility of their company’s work culture because culture determines whether employees have the courage to make use of flexibility.

The first step is to set people free from 9-5 and that work is something that only can take place at the office. Work is not a place – it’s an ongoing activity. Second, focus more on results and less on visibility. Third, give people the tools to improve their individual Work-Life Balance.

Arnaud Collery: Storytelling and improvisation

Arnaud is an award winning Comedian and filmmaker (NBC’s last comic standing, MTV, Fuji TV, Comedy store, Little Klaus Big World – Best comedy film Monaco Film Festival 2012). He has coached numerous CEOs in myriad industries. He’s worked with clients like Cartier, Chanel, United Nations, Novartis, Axa, L’Oreal, BMW and Renault Trucks.

In his workshop Arnaud will show how we can find even more happiness in our careers, by understanding, owning and reframing our own stories. He will help you to build stronger, deeper and more relaxed relationships with your team and all those around you.

The workshop will be fun and fast-paced and based on techniques from storytelling and improvisational theatre.

See the full program and get your tickets here.

How always being busy kills productivity – and 5 ways to avoid it

“Your car is having trouble and will need repairs at a cost of around $1,500. How would you handle that situation?”

Scientists from the University of Warwick led by professor Anandi Mani stopped customers at a New Jersey mall and asked them that question. Next the subjects took an IQ test and the results was stunning: For financially well-off participants, this question did not affect their IQ scores in any way. But people who were struggling financially underperformed by 13 IQ-points simply because their money worries had been brought to their attention.

This experiment is described in the excellent book ”Scarcity – Why Having Too Little Means So Much” by professor of economics Sendhil Mullainathan and professor of psychology Eldar Shafir, in which the two scientists clearly lay out the negative cognitive effects of scarcity.

When we have too little of something that is important to us we become a little dumber, less disciplined and we make poor choices. This helps explain - among many other things – why poor people keep taking out pay-day loans, even when they should know better and even though those incredibly expensive  loans just put them deeper in the hole.

And this is not only about lack of money; the book gives plenty of examples of how time scarcity has the same kind of effects, making us dumber and worse at managing what little time we do have effectively.

So, knowing this, why is it that so many workplaces mercilessly keep putting their employees under massive time pressure? Why do leaders consistently create time scarcity?

This happens when:

  • Employees are routinely expected to increase their productivity year after year with little or no additional support, training or resources.
  • A manager commits to their team doing more work with the same staff.
  • A company is growing and taking on new clients/projects without a commensurate increase in staff and resources.
  • An organization lays off staff but expects the reduced staff to the same amount of work.
  • Schedules are filled to capacity with meetings and tasks before the work week even starts, leaving no time for ad-hoc or unexpected tasks.

Some leaders think that these situations create a burning platform that pressures employees to work effectively and creatively towards the company’s goals, but the truth is the opposite: Time scarcity reduces employees’ cognitive resources and makes it much harder for them to do their jobs well.

And what’s worse, this can become self-reinforcing. Here’s an example: An organizations reduces headcount leading to increased time pressure and scarcity among those left. This weakens their cognitive capacity and productivity drops, leading to even more busyness and scarcity.

Is this something you see happening in your workplace? Here are 5 things we can do about it.

1: Take time pressure off employees

Instead of giving employees hard-to-reach productivity goals and filling their work week to the brim (and beyond) we need to give them more realistic goals and leave some slack in their schedules so any ad-hoc task that comes along (as it inevitably will) does not topple the whole load.

Most employees actually get more work done when they have productivity goals that are reasonable and within their capacity.

Here’s a great example: The IT company Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor only lets employees work 40 hours a week and then only schedules 32 hours of work per employee per week. That way there is no time scarcity and always time for unexpected tasks. This is described in the excellent book “Joy Inc” by Menlo’s CEO Rich Sheridan.

2: Celebrate good performance

We also need to constantly praise and appreciate people and teams for the good work they do. This give employees a sense of accomplishment and purpose that goes a long way towards combatting time scarcity.

Some workplaces do the opposite though: First giving people unrealistic goals and then hitting them over the head for not reaching those goals.

3: Leave time for learning and development

Every single employee must have time to get better. To learn new professional and personal skills. To reflect on what is working well and what can be improved in the workplace.

This becomes near-impossible under time scarcity, preventing employees from getting better at their jobs.

The IT company Next Jump in New York give each employee significant time every week to develop their skills with a mentor, in weekly meetings or on their own. That way employees always have time for growth and development, which they deem essential to their success. Here’s a great article on how they do it.

4: Maintain good workplace relationships

One of the first things to go in a workplace facing time scarcity is the workplace relationships.

When we are very busy it becomes exponentially harder to care about other people, to help and support co-workers and to maintain a habit of helping each other.  Needless to say, this just makes the effects of busyness that much worse.

Instead we need to make sure that there is always time to create and maintain relationships between employees. There should always be time for a coffee break and a chat with a co-worker. No one should eat lunch alone at their desk. Even something as simple as saying a cheerful “good morning” to your team mates in the morning can make a positive difference – and can be neglected and forgotten under time scarcity.

 

5: Avoid permanent overwork

Some companies try to solve this by making people work more hours. Don’t!

First of all – overwork can kill you:

… those working a 55-hour week face 33% increased risk of stroke than those working a 35- to 40-hour week.

And to make matters worse, all those extra hours don’t even mean you get more work done:

[Overwork] … doesn’t seem to result in more output.

So overwork is killing employees while not improving business results. Can we stop it already?

It’s a topic I’ve talked about a lot on this blog.

The upshot

Simply put, many workplaces put employees in a situation of near-permanent time scarcity, thinking this will pressure them to work harder. The truth is the opposite: It makes them more stressed, more sick, less happy and less productive.

Instead, we should do our very best to reduce time pressures because that way, the organization will be more successful.

Your take

Do you see any of this happening in your workplace? Is time a scarce resource and how does it affect you?

Write a comment, we’d love to hear your take.

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New research: Overwork kills productivity AND employees

Yikes – overwork can kill you:

… those working a 55-hour week face 33% increased risk of stroke than those working a 35- to 40-hour week.

And to make matters worse, all those extra hours don’t even mean you get more work done:

[Overwork] … doesn’t seem to result in more output.

So overwork is killing employees while not improving business results. Can we stop it already?

It’s a topic I’ve talked about a lot on this blog.