Productivity Without Burnout (Stop the 60-Hour Work Week!)

Managers are responsible for ensuring that the duties, responsibilities, and projects of their team actually get done — on time, on budget, and to a high performance standard.  There are countless books, courses, consultants, and apps to help managers achieve this goal.

So why are so many deliverables not completed on time, on budget, and to a high performance standard?

While there are many potential challenges that undermine a team’s ability to complete their tasks, burnout is often overlooked as a potential cause — and the workplace stressors contributing to employee burnout are often ignored.

When employees’ workloads are impossible to accomplish within the standard 40-hour work week, the individual worker (as well as their manager) will compensate by working longer hours with little time off.  They extend themselves way beyond what is humanly possible — and often view their lack of work-life balance or even sleep as a “badge of honor” and evidence of their dedication to the company.

Yet the decreased productivity continues.

Either through mandatory overtime set by managers or an individual employee’s decision to log in more hours (especially if they are an exempt salaried employee), the “cure” is to simply spend more time doing what needs to be done.

In other words, employees cope by voluntarily or involuntarily extending the number of hours that they work per week.  These long work hours are closely attached to workaholism — one of burnout’s false cures.  Despite being cognitively compromised and emotionally drained, they believe that the act of logging in more hours will miraculously allow them to enhance their productivity and regain their edge.

But workaholism is a false cure because it doesn’t work.

Research has consistently shown that the 60-hour work week is the “magic” number that increases stress and can trigger the descent into burnout.  The Japanese have identified karoshi (literally “death by overwork”) as the result of consistently working an additional 80 hours per month.  (A 60-hour work week is 20 hours over the standard 40 — if multiplied by 4 weeks per month, voila!  There are your 80 additional hours per month.)

If you are a manager who is worried by a decrease in your team’s productivity, look at the context surrounding this deficit:

  • Do you routinely estimate the total number of hours necessary to complete a project — then add some “wiggle room” to compensate for the inevitable unexpected hiccups that will occur?
  • Are you sufficiently staffed — or do you need more workers to complete routine tasks, duties, and responsibilities?
  • Is your technology powerful enough to assist workers in completing their duties — or is it a hindrance?
  • Are you fully aware of the total scope of projects that you’ve assigned to each of your subordinates — or are you guilty of scope creep?
  • And finally, do you demand overtime (compensated or uncompensated) from workers who are already exhibiting the signs of burnout?

In the video accompanying this article, you’ll learn how easy it is for workers to “suddenly” get into the red zone of long work hours that can lead to burnout — or even karoshi.  Be sure to watch to the end, where I’ll share what research has found to be the optimal number of work hours per day in order to be productive.  (Hint:  it might surprise you…)

© 2019 G. A. Puleo

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