Long hours of work are more likely to re­sult in sim­ple er­rors and a com­pro­mised moral com­pass, writes Kate Kearins.

NZ Business - - CONTENTS - Kate Kearins is cur­rently Act­ing Dean in the Fac­ulty of Busi­ness, Eco­nom­ics and Law at Auck­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy.

THERE WAS A time when slow­ing down at the week­end bugged me. It was while work­ing in France, where the su­per­mar­kets and stores were mostly closed on Sun­day. I lamented this si­t­u­a­tion at first, but came to re­ally love it as it meant the day be­came more ac­tively de­voted to fam­ily and friends.

No longer could the rhythms of a busy work­ing week seep into the week­end. In­stead there was time for long lunches with friends, vis­its to cas­tles, mu­se­ums and gal­leries, artsy movies, and me­an­der­ing walks.

France may shut up shop at the week­end and force peo­ple into think­ing more ex­pan­sively about leisure ac­tiv­ity – but else­where an over­stuffed work sched­ule is some­thing to brag about.

Many of us gen­uinely en­joy work­ing the week­end. That was the find­ing of Har­vard Busi­ness School re­searcher Francesca Gino and her col­league Bradley Staats. Gino says peo­ple were at their best and hap­pi­est at a time when they felt pro­duc­tive.

She sug­gests that by feel­ing pro­duc­tive we are mak­ing some sort of dif­fer­ence in the world. “As long as you love what you do, what's the prob­lem with work­ing on the week­end?” she asks in It’s the Week­end! Why Are You Work­ing, the HBR ar­ti­cle she coau­thored with Staats.

The prob­lem Gino and Staats dis­cov­ered was that even though our de­mand­ing jobs make us en­er­gised and mo­ti­vated, the cog­ni­tive re­sources needed to keep per­form­ing at our best were a fi­nite sup­ply and needed top­ping up over time.

Long hours of work were more likely to re­sult in sim­ple er­rors and a com­pro­mised moral com­pass. Get­ting by with min­i­mal sleep and pro­duc­tively long work hours is a badge of hon­our few can ac­tu­ally achieve.

Sarah Green Carmichael, a se­nior edi­tor at the HBR, says most of us tire more eas­ily than we think. Only one to three per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion can still func­tion well on five or six hours sleep.

“More­over, for ev­ery 100 peo­ple who think they're a mem­ber of this sleep­less elite, only five ac­tu­ally are.”

So we're de­luded if we think short­cut­ting sleep will lead to bet­ter work out­comes and we're also de­luded that more time on the job reaps good re­sults.

Green Carmichael pointed to a study by Erin Reid, a pro­fes­sor at Bos­ton Univer­sity's Que­strom School of Busi­ness, who found man­agers couldn't tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween staff who worked 80 hours a week and those who just faked it.

“While man­agers did pe­nalise em­ploy­ees who were trans­par­ent about work­ing less, Reid was not able to find any ev­i­dence that those em­ploy­ees ac­tu­ally ac­com­plished less, or any sign that the over­worked em­ploy­ees ac­com­plished more.”

A long day, or even a long week, ev­ery now and then is fine, and some­times nec­es­sary, but all too of­ten it be­comes an in­grained habit.

“Our pas­sion for our work and the pleasure we gain from feel­ing pro­duc­tive may ex­plain why we so of­ten work on the week­end, but we still need to be sure to make time to recharge,” say Gino and Staats.

They sug­gest ap­ply­ing “fierce in­ten­tion­al­ity” to both work and leisure – when we're work­ing we need to en­sure we're re­ally work­ing and when we're re­new­ing, make sure we're re­ally re­new­ing.

I know that the week­end break is es­sen­tial for me to re­gen­er­ate. For me that in­volves wrap­ping up my work­ing week on Fri­day, even if it means the oc­ca­sional late night on a Fri­day at my desk.

I try to limit look­ing at work emails over the week­end and, in turn, re­sist the urge to fire off emails to col­leagues over the week­end so they can have time off work too. Back at work on Mon­day morn­ing I can oc­ca­sion­ally see the stress of col­leagues who have in­stead spent their week­end work­ing.

Many of us – in­clud­ing some French peo­ple I know – work more hours than man­dated. In­ter­est­ing though, de­spite other prob­lems, France's pro­duc­tiv­ity re­mains rel­a­tively high, es­pe­cially when mea­sured per hour of labour. The re­search would sug­gest you should work hard when you work – and en­joy your week­end when it comes. Vive le week­end!

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