Hours vs Productivity: With longer working hours becoming the norm, are we getting any more work done?
Office hours have been creeping up in recent years. This is perhaps in response to the lingering effects of 2008’s economic crisis, as businesses are under ever-increasing pressure to record profits in a tough market. Many organisations have responded by increasing office working hours in order to increase the amount of work done in a week. But is more work actually being done? Extensive research indicates that longer hours may actually be having an adverse effect, causing productivity to crumble.
The working time directive states that employees in the UK should not have to work more than 48 hours a week. Working hours in the UK average around 43 hours per week – however, statistics vary from different sources and the true average could be significantly higher, with much overtime going unrecorded. It’s not uncommon in some high stress industries, such as legal services, for the working week to extend beyond as much as 60 hours!
Self-proclaimed productivity expert Chris Bailey has identified that the ideal work week is 35 hours long, achieving the optimum balance between work, rest and play. Research indicates that working more than 35 hours a week can have long-term damaging effects. Although there is initial spike in employee productivity which comes with longer working hours, data shows that, about 4 weeks after the extended hours commence, things begin to take a turn for the worse. Longer working hours are only sustainable for a short period of time before overworked employees become stressed and fatigued as workloads catch up with them.
This creates problems in a number of areas – not only are longer hours negatively affecting the volume and quality of work that your employees are producing, but your employees’ quality of life also takes a blow. The conclusion is somewhat obvious: simply put, overworked and unhappy employees aren’t a productive workforce. Research indicates that there’s a big gap between perceived and actual productivity. Employees working longer hours feel that they can achieve more with the extra time, but the results speak for themselves – employees working shorter hours deliver the better end results.
There are a couple of factors that cause this gap. Firstly, fatigued employees who are working under pressure for long periods of time can lose perspective on their work. By never leaving their desk, an employee loses the bigger picture. Being able to step back and self-examine your work is essential to delivering quality results. Secondly, stress is proven to affect our decision-making abilities and, as such, employees in positions of responsibility will inevitably make poorer judgement calls when stressed and fatigued.
Today, some companies are taking different approaches, ditching set hours in favour of flexi-time and the ability to work from home. This follows on from the train of thought that it doesn’t matter how, when or where it’s done – as long as it’s done. Josh Patrick, founder of a finance firm, wrote an article for the New York Times with a simple quote directed to his employees, “you’re the expert at your job” – essentially acknowledging that the vast majority of employees know what they are doing and will be more productive when they aren’t micromanaged. One key aspect of this is allowing employees to work outside the remit of long, set hours.
As an employer or business manager, it’s in your best interests to have a healthy, happy and productive workforce. Eden Springs provide high quality and competitively priced water coolers and hot drinks machines – give your office a boost by keeping your employees well hydrated and caffeinated!