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It’s the same story the world over: managers work long hours. Their days are busy and their workload is considerable, including leading meetings, talking to employees and superiors, writing reports, negotiating with clients and suppliers and, finally, making decisions.It is as much a part of the international management culture as having an assistant and a company car.
According to a Kienbaum study carried out in cooperation with the Harvard Business Review, the majority of managers work 50-60 hours a week. Nearly a quarter work even longer than 60 hours, which means a working day of more than 12 hours. Only 4% do not work at weekends.
Besides the high workload, there are other reasons for managers’ long working hours. 57% refer to the recognition that the professional status brings, the challenge and the fun on the job. Staying in the office for long hours is an important indicator of high performance and promotes career development. About 63% of the managers interviewed by Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University Management School, said that managers who work extremely long working hours are promoted more, and 59% admitted frankly that they only work long hours in order to be seen working long hours. Managers themselves look upon employees who come in over the weekend or stay late in the evenings as being “committed” to their work.
Managers do not necessarily work overtime in order to handle urgent matters. It often has a symbolic meaning, since a person’s presence in the office is a central strategy in the struggle for prestige. Objective reasons such as deadlines and closing dates certainly play a role in staying at work longer, but it’s often more about not leaving before the boss does.
Efficiency has little to do with such behaviour. To a certain degree, it’s the enthusiasm for the job which makes people exaggerate. However, the individual's energy has certain limitations. People are not designed to concentrate for more than 30 - 40 minutes at a time. Doing normal activities, a person’s performance tails off significantly after nine hours. Routine tasks can still get done even if a person is exhausted, but it is somewhat unlikely that they will have brilliant ideas in this state. About 50% of British managers interviewed by Cooper confessed that working for longer made them less productive.
Employees are also affected by long working hours. In many companies, there are fewer people coping with a larger workload. In the “Stress Report Germany 2012”, 43% of employees said that they were convinced that stress in their workplace had increased in the previous two years. More than 17,000 employees were interviewed nationwide regarding the psychological demands and the consequences of the stress and strain of their everyday work. Half of the respondents were working to tight deadlines and under pressure to perform. Nearly 60% of respondents reported having to manage several tasks simultaneously. Almost half had their work constantly interrupted. Due to the fact that rest periods did not fit in with the workflow or there was too much work, one quarter of people did not take a break. 64% worked on Saturdays and 38% on Sundays and public holidays.
Employees who enjoy their work are usually more results-oriented, and think less about the hours they spend working. Overtime is usually not a burden for them. In particular, young professionals throw themselves into work enthusiastically. In the early years, they often experience the pleasure of professionalism. Only later a feeling may grow that it is hard to keep up this pace forever. Overtime does not turn into a problem all at once, but little by little.
High performance is soon lost if you do not pause and take longer recovery periods. You might not see this in the amount of output, but a closer inspection will show a significant difference in quality. Chronically exhausted employees make the wrong decisions. For most people, it’s not advisable to work constantly for more than 50 hours a week.
Only 7% of the CFOs surveyed in a recent study by Robert Half believe that overtime or additional services have increased the productivity of the company over the previous year. So it seems that even top executives doubt whether overtime is successful.
The measures of success for employees are often unclear and, for them, daily attendance is the only sure indication of their potential. Working overtime does not only demonstrate application. It stands for loyalty and identification with the company and, significantly, is also an indicator of importance for partners and family. For many people, working is not just part of their lives; it dominates their lives. They are allowing family and friends to be neglected and their health to be damaged. In the end, the consequences are often the same. Productivity and motivation decrease and problems in the social surroundings start. Gender does not make any difference. Female executives work only slightly less than their male colleagues. To work less requires a lot of self-confidence. However, no research data exist to demonstrate that people are more productive when they work 60 hours instead of 40 hours. Good managers work smart, not long.
Here a few tactics for a smarter way of working:
There is a difference between being busy and doing the right thing. To do is not the same as to achieve.
Focus on the big picture instead of being distracted by minor issues.
According to the Pareto principle, 80% of the profits come from 20% of the time spent. That means that a small percentage of your efforts generates a large percentage of your results. Ask yourself which tasks are creating revenue/impact and which are unimportant?
Did you come up with a new idea to solve a tricky problem? Did you start to prepare the presentation due next week? These accomplishments, and not the hours you work, are what drives your organisation’s success.
If you are dealing with a task which costs you too much effort, check whether somebody else can help out. Free yourself from activities which hold you up or even make you unproductive.
Every other day we do things other people should be doing. This can be because responsibilities are not clearly defined, subjects overlap or team members need more information and ask so many questions that we eventually decide to do it ourselves. Give it back!
Every week your boss gives you more work to do. Most employees try to cope by working more. It’s better to apply the technical workload reduction. For each new task, reduce an old one within the parameters of what is possible.
Only handle it once. When you read an e-mail, decide whether or not to reply to it, and if you need to reply, do so there and then. About 60% of all e-mails, whether internal or external, do not require a response.
Don’t waste your time creating A+ work when B+ is good enough. Use the extra time to create A+ work where it matters most.
Be quick to report problems to your superior and suggest possible solutions, including a revision of the actual project metrics.
Plan regular appointments in your diary, e.g. time which you dedicate to yourself for a dinner with friends, time to watch a film or simply time to do nothing. Take these dates with yourself as seriously as you do your job.
- Kienbaum-Studie “Worklife-Balance von Top-Managern” in cooperation with the Harvard Business Manager, 2007.
- Cary Cooper, Quality of Working Life 2012: Managers’ Wellbeing, Motivation and Productivity, 2012, Chartered
- Sladjan Petkovic, Robert Half International, Workplace Survey 2012.
- Anna Loll, Wer zuerst geht, der verliert, faz.net, 25.09.2007.
- Judith Reicherzer, Lieber smart arbeiten als lange, Zeit online, 1999.
- Stressreport Deutschland 2012. Psychische Anforderungen, Ressourcen und Befinden. 1. Auflage. Dortmund:
Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin, 2012.