Never out of office
Workers put in average of 23 extra hours each month to get noticed, study finds
e often hear that moving up the corporate ladder means you have to put in serious face time. Make yourself ubiquitous in the office, the theory goes, and you’ll establish the normalcy and importance of your supposedly hardworking presence.
But just how much extra time does a typical worker stay on the clock to get noticed?
A recent study by Maxis Global Benefits Network on work-life balance found that, on average, American workers log 23 extra hours every month just to be seen. That’s close to the United Arab Emirates, where workers put in the most get-attention hours, at 24 per month. South African employees, by comparison, do the least extra hours, 14 a month.
Bosses may think it’s great to get more work out of people, but here’s the rub: Workers who put in this extra notice-me time aren’t necessarily going to give you more. They might be in the office at their desks, yes, but similar to other research, the study found that people who work longer hours aren’t more productive.
You basically end up paying them to compete for your attention.
Now, some of this might relate to Parkinson’s Law, which essentially says that you’ll expand your work to fill whatever time you’ve got available. And, if people perceive that the shortest amount of time they should be at the office is nine or 10 hours instead of eight, for example, they might subconsciously spread their tasks out to fit the new standard.
It might not necessarily be a fully intentional choice by employees to cheat their employers, but rather a result of implicit bias.
Johnny Warstrom, CEO and cofounder of interactive presentation company Mentimeter, acknowledges that the issue stems from the culture cultivated in the office.
“If there is a culture of staying late, and doing overtime,” says Warstrom, “workers infer that this is an expectation, putting in extra hours to prove their commitment and dedication to their employer.”
Mathias Mikkelsen, CEO and founder of Memory (the maker of time tracking app Timely), puts it more bluntly:
“I truly believe that the main factor is poor leadership. No employee wakes up one day with a sudden desire to sit in front of the computer and pretend to work, but this is something that happens because it is being encouraged by managers. Only an incredibly toxic culture allows this sort of behavior to happen, and inadequate leadership is entirely responsible for it. The problem is that many companies are directly encouraging presenteeism by handing out rewards and promotion and praising those who are ‘seen’ to be giving their all.”
Warstrom says we should eliminate the pressure to be perceived as working long hours, so employees can focus on efficiency and can leave after eight or nine hours of solid work, which would aid productivity.
Work-life balance would be better too. Warstrom believes the current emphasis on presenteeism corrodes business growth by encouraging costly burnout, which further destroys the culture, engagement and loyalty.
Mikkelsen, who is concerned that people are “spinning the wheel” instead of contributing to the progress of humanity and society, says that if workers were happier because of better work-life balance, that improved well-being naturally would have a positive influence on motivation and productivity.
“Burnout is incredibly expensive for both the employee and the employer, and so is a broken company culture,” Mikkelsen says. “It’s disappointing for workers to commit to a certain number of weekly hours on their contract, and then be continually expected to perform against a vague and invisible secondary set. Respect goes both ways.”
Warstrom says that leading by example is the best way to combat the overwork. For example, he doesn’t send late-night emails so that employees don’t think he expects them to do the same. But on a larger scale, leaders need to be more vocal and put the myth that extra hours equals extra output to bed.
He encourages leaders to put policies in place that empower workers to make healthy and honest choices about how they get tasks done.
Mikkelsen agrees that change has to come from the top and that education about the myth is necessary.
“The biggest lie in business,” Mikkelsen says, “is that someone is working just because they’re ... at their desk and in front of their computer. Allow workers to work in a way and in a place that suits them best, and then reward them for the results that they achieve, rather than for the number of hours they put in.”
“Take genuine responsibility for the culture of your business,” Warstrom concludes. “Address symptoms of presenteeism and encourage your employees to leave on time. Don’t reward overtime for the sake of it, and clearly communicate and demonstrate to your team that their well-being matters.”
Wanda Thibodeaux is the proprietor of Takingdictation.com.