Productivity has long been measured in hours spent working. As a result, employees boast about stress levels, sleep lost, and overtime in the office with a sense of pride; those that bemoan working 50 plus hours a week are stigmatized as employees who “can’t keep up” with those willing to trade in their personal lives for professional success. Even in workplaces that have a fairly rigid policy on leaving at five, employees that stay beyond curfew gain admiration rather than admonition. The assumption is that they are so dedicated and hard working that they cannot leave work unfinished, or that they are just able to tackle more in a day than those who check out at quitting time.
But how productive are they, really? Studies have shown that productivity rises until about 40 hours of work, and every hour after presents diminishing marginal returns. Sleep deprivation exacerbates these effects. In an article on sleep and productivity in Inc magazine, Margaret Heffernan points out, “[if you] lose just one night’s sleep, your cognitive capacity is roughly the same as being over the alcohol limit. Yet we regularly hail as heroes the executives who take the red eye, jump into a rental car, and zoom down the highway to the next meeting. Would we, I wonder, be so impressed if they arrived drunk?”
More than policy, this fix is a matter of behavior on behalf of the leader. The importance you set, much like in everything, is a crucial factor in creating a healthy attitude toward work. Ask yourself: do I take vacations? Do I take time to check in on the important personal events in the lives of my people: births, graduations? In this stressed environment, especially, am I taking the pulse of my team, to preempt stress or overwork? If you don’t practice what you preach, neither will your people. They will turn to you to see what good leadership looks like. Don’t tell your team to slow down as you frequently engage in 9PM conference calls. They will more readily emulate what you do than adhere to what you say.
The change starts with you. How important is your personal life to you? How important is it that your employees have a life outside of your organization? Acknowledge the detriment to your productivity that workaholism can incur, but also take to heart the importance of your—and others’—personal relationships. It will be easier for you to cast the right shadow if at the core you value a healthy mix of work life and personal life.
How do you encourage a healthy work-life balance in your workplace?