Why Long Working Hours May Not Be Productive

Managing the working hours of your team is a delicate balancing act!

It seems that most workplaces include at least one workaholic who feels the need to work excessive hours every day.  It is likely that they are not as productive as they might otherwise be, and the quality of their work usually suffers.

On the other hand, you may have concerns about someone who is not doing their contractual hours.  They seem to be “getting away” with doing the minimum of work and it is likely that their colleagues have noticed and are resentful.

So how can you reconcile these two extremes and find a middle way which works for everyone?

Finding a balance

Most people have a specified number of working hours as a clause in their contract of employment (their “contractual hours”).  Some may stick rigidly to those hours and work no longer, nor any less. Some can even be fairly fanatical about working the exact hours they are paid for.

A good manager can work with all of these people and most teams have a mixture.  But when does it become a problem?  And what can you do about it?

Excessive working hours

If you have an issue with people working excessive hours, then it might be a good idea to look in the mirror.

If the boss is seen to have long working hours, then people will follow that lead.  Even if you tell them that you do not expect them to work long hours, they will watch you and follow your example.   The old adage “do as I say, not as I do” just does not work.  We humans have a herd mentality.We want to fit in with others and be accepted.  The obvious way to do that is to mirror the leaders.  It is not a conscious decision, but it is a fact.   So if you want to change a culture of long hours, you may need to model the required behaviour.

The other reason we work long hours is because we feel under pressure to get more work done.  In busy workplaces, the temptation is always to do just that little bit more before you finish for the day.  That “little bit more” can then stretch into a great deal more.  And it can quickly become a habit.  It is counter-productive, of course.  After a few hours, we quickly become stale and no longer produce good quality work.  So work which gets done in extra hours is often poor and needs to be done again. Mistakes creep in when we are tired.  And we work more and more slowly and everything takes more effort.

What about those who do the bare minimum?

On the other hand, there are people who seem to coast through work, doing the very minimum and seemingly “getting away” with it.

This one is difficult to deal with, because some people are just very quick and efficient.  They do manage to get through a huge amount of work in a minimal timescale. This can upset others who think those people are not pulling their weight.

The best way to manage workload is to decide what you think is a reasonable result for the amount of time available.  For example, you may think an acceptable average time for, say, writing a report is 7 hours or one day.  One team member may take 10 hours, while another may only take 5.5 hours.  In both cases, the quality of the report is good and meets the requirements.  My assessment would be that both are acceptable.  If the person who took longer has done a good job, then maybe you could adjust their workload to give them time to work to the acceptable standard.  If the person who worked less time still produced a good report, then you are safe to give them a little more work to fill their time.  But it is all a balancing act.  If you thought a day was acceptable and they finished early and had some more time for their own personal things, then good for them.

The point of this is that the end result is what matters, not the exact time taken to achieve that result.  You will probably find that the slower person has other areas where they excel.

Stopping the gossip

If you have a team member who appears to be working for fewer hours and their colleagues are not happy, then you may need to intervene.

It may be as simple as a team meeting, where you explain to everyone that you judge their work on the results they achieve.  If they produce good work in the required timescale, then let them know that you will not be checking their hours.

It might be a good idea to keep a careful eye on the situation, of course.  If someone is taking advantage and really is slacking, then you may want to take some action.  Equally, someone may be taking too long because they are struggling, or need some training.  Again you may want to do something about that.

What about the clockwatchers?

Of course, many people work the required number of hours and no more.  If the quality and amount of their work is acceptable, then this is not a problem.  It could cause a difficulty if they take too long to do the work, or if they are not being productive.  This might indicate that they are stretching the work to fill the hours available.  Or it might show that there is too much to do in the timescale, but they are not prepared to work longer.  Either way, the workload may need some adjustment.

Outcomes and results

The nub of the matter is that many managers confuse hours worked with being productive.  My approach has always been to judge on outcomes.  If we try and judge people on their number of working hours, then we are paying them for their presence, rather than their contribution.

We all have productive days and days which we feel have been wasted.  We work at a differing pace, depending on our emotions, our health, and a myriad other factors.  I am sure we have all had working days when we might as well not have got out of bed.  But equally, everyone has a day when they shine and achieve miracles.

A productive workforce is made up of people who are at all stages and work at a different pace.  A good manager will recognise this and judge on results.

If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support or information  on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – contact us for a no-obligation chat.

Jill Aburrow runs an HR strategic consultancy business – JMA HR .  She provides strategic HR advice and support to businesses who want to improve loyalty, growth and profit. Why not join the JMA HR mailing list?  Jill has been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD) and has a Post Graduate Certificate in Employment Law.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *