For most of my working life I have really enjoyed my work and put in a lot of hours, but my recent illness has resulted in me working probably an average of 6 hours a day over the last 3 years and it’s resulted in a significant shift in my thinking. The first thing I noticed was that many people I worked with didn’t realize that I was working reduced hours, the second thing was that whilst the total output of work did reduce quite a bit, the volume of really high value work probably increased.
Although I produced fewer slides and pages of reports that no one read, I did a lot more coaching, development, networking, facilitating and idea generation and with a higher adoption rate.
This observation got me thinking about when I was most productive in my 20 years at work and it struck me that there was one period that really stood out – and it was when I was working a true flextime system. Under this scheme my employer allowed me flexible start and finish times and allowed me to trade any hours I worked beyond 37 hours a week back to holidays. I had a lot of holidays during those 3 years, and I don’t think I ever booked an hours over-time, but it was without doubt the most fun and most successful time in my life.
I recently re-read a book that inspired a lot of this thinking called Slack by the famous Tom Demarco of PeopleWare fame. The subtitle of the book says it all “Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency” and it’s message is much needed in today’s business environment, I liked it enough second time around to buy a copy for my current boss.
I was also encouraged to see that there are some signs that the issues of over work without associated over-achievement are being increasingly recognized by leading businesses. This snippet from a longer article cites the work of Dr Ellen Ernst Kossek of Michigan State University’s School of Labor and Industrial Relations – gives you an idea:
Kossek says the study showed that reduced-load work arrangements can reap several key benefits for employers, including greater productivity, less turnover and cost savings.
“Some of these benefits are counter-intuitive but nevertheless they are real,” Kossek insisted.
Employees working fewer hours were less stressed and felt they performed their job better
But the most compelling reason for advocating reduced workloads for professional employees is that they are a good way to retain top performers, something that every organisation wants to do.
Employees working fewer hours were less stressed, able to manage family commitments and felt they performed their job better. They also exhibited a greater loyalty to the organisation.
And there can be other hidden benefits, Kossek agues. For example, she said, an attorney on reduced workload used the time to think about his job. He came up with an idea that resulted in huge savings for the firm, something that might not have happened if he had been working full-time.
Hopefully you won’t learn this lesson through illness forcing you to slow down like I did, but instead I encourage you to pick up a copy of Slack and have a good read one weekend and perhaps come back to work the following week determined to change life for your self and your teams.
If the idea of slowing down really appeals then I can also recommend In Praise of Slow, although I must admit I did skim read it towards the end so I’m not totally cured.