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More hours does not mean better work.

It seems that in too many organizations being “busy” and working long hours are the norm and somehow have become a badge of honor. If your people always brag about how busy they are and how many hours they work it should be a red flag. If that is you and your organization it may be time to take a step back and have a hard look at the realities and the costs.

Ask yourself:

    • What are the costs to your health and the health and wellness of your team?
    • What is the cost to your relationships at home and outside the workplace?
    • What is the cost to productivity?
    • What is the cost to quality thinking and decision-making?
    • Does working longer hours actually result in more quality work, or does it simply result in longer hours, increased levels of fatigue and brain fog, poor quality work and decisions and burnout?

There are only so many deep work sessions a person can do in a day. There comes a point of diminishing returns on performance with continuously working long days. When long days are the norm and people are expected to be available to answer e-mails and text messages on weekends and at all hours of the night they start to loose commitment to the mission and their productivity is negatively affected on a daily basis.

An occasional sustained bout of long hours to complete a project or deal with a major issue that arises is manageable. If it is every day, then there is a problem. People need time to recover. People need time to workout. People need time with their families and friends outside of the job. People need time for hobbies. People need time away from work so they can be more productive at work.

Pay attention to how many zombies you have at work who are completely exhausted and are just putting in time and going through the motions. They are spending lots of time at work, because that is what the boss expects or demands, but they are hardly at their most productive and creative while they are there. Chronic fatigue is a killer. It kills the mind, body and spirit. It kills productivity and creativity.

They say that constraints can enhance creativity. What if you created a constraint on the number of hours that people could work each week? Not just the number of hours they put in at the office, but the number of hours they work. Might employee wellness, productivity, creativity, energy, attitude and innovation go up? Might sick time, burnout, and poor decisions go down?

If you are making these changes people need to see you model the behaviours. Peter Senge shared this cautionary story in his book The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization, “I recall a good friend who tried, fruitlessly, to reduce burnout among professionals in his rapidly growing training business. He wrote memos, shortened working hours, even closed and locked offices earlier—all attempts to get people to stop overworking. But all these actions were offset—people ignored the memos, disobeyed the shortened hours, and took their work home with them when the offices were locked. Why? Because an unwritten norm in the organization stated that the real heroes, the people who really cared and who got ahead in the organization, worked seventy hours a week—a norm that my friend had established himself by his own prodigious energy and long hours.”

What if you also did away with most of the energy sucking meetings and the ones you had were short standing meetings? Might this free up time and energy and allow people to get their work done in fewer hours every week?

I realize this is more challenging in some professions than others.  Before you write off the idea however, ask yourself, “What if we could do it? How would it work? What would it look like?” What if you asked your people how to make it work? Is it possible they have the answers already and are simply waiting for some to ask them?

People are leaving good paying jobs and taking substantial pay cuts to work for an organization that allows them to work more reasonable hours and have a life, perhaps even saving their life. In some organizations people are declining to seek or accept promotions because of the demands to work unreasonable hours in those senior leadership positions.

If your organization has the belief that long hours equals dedication to the company, you may have a serious culture problem. That culture may be slowly killing your productivity, creativity, and your people. What are you going to do to change that culture?

Remember that leadership is a choice and a journey and it starts with you. Choose well, keep learning and enjoy the journey.

Brian Willis

Register yourself, and your team for the Dare to Be Great: Strategies for Creating a Culture of Leading online workshop to get everyone on the same page regarding leadership and culture. If you are interested in hosting a live Dare to Be Great workshop reach out to me at