Never out of of­fice

Work­ers put in av­er­age of 23 ex­tra hours each month to get no­ticed, study finds

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Success - By Wanda Thi­bodeaux |

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.

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