Successfully running a business, at its core, is a numbers game. Reducing costs, increasing sales, cutting energy expenditures, boosting annual pay raises, awarding more paid time off, and adjusting company 401k matching. All of these numbers directly or indirectly affect your profitability; for even the most benevolent employers, who have employees’ best interests at heart, productivity, and profitability are non-negotiable. They determine whether the organization sinks or floats.
In our quest to keep profitability high, employers and employees alike often overlook a key number – the number of hours worked. For decades the magic number 40 has governed the workweek. While many individuals work less, too many work more. While more working hours would seem to be indicative of more work getting done, that is not always the case. A study performed at Stanford University shows that employees working more than 55 hours per week do not accomplish more than their peers. Additionally, they are more error-prone when working excessive hours.
Why work long hours?
If you have ever worked late into the evening or early hours of the day, you have felt your focus and attention to detail slip as your body yearns for sleep. With a constant stream of coffee or caffeinated soda, you manage to work through the night, but your creativity is limited, and you struggle to do your best work. At some level, we all understand that everyone performs best when they have a good work-life balance. Why, then, is overworking so common?
The drive can come from the employee themselves. For some, it arises out of an ambition to accomplish more and impress the higher-ups. There is a desirable, high-paying position opening up, and it has their name all over it if they can prove their worth to the company. For others, a sense of duty to their employer drives them to do whatever it takes to solve problems and meet deadlines.
Other times, the reason employees overwork comes from an external force. For example, a demanding manager who pushes employees to accomplish and do more. Or perhaps, we are all falling victim to the enabling power of technology. Apps such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Google Chat allow employees to continue talking about work even when they are not at work, with conversations extending into the evening and eliminating personal and family time.
Consequences of Overworking
Employers who allow overworking to continue within their organization, regardless of the root cause, may see a temporary increase in productivity. However, the long-term consequences to employees and the company, as a whole, are a high price to pay.
Decreasing Work Quality
Keeping your head in the game long enough to work eight hours daily can be challenging. The more taxing the work, the more difficult it can be to avoid mistakes or missteps. And as the day wears on, fatigue sets in. By the time you leave work, you may not be feeling as sharp as you were when you walked through the front doors earlier that morning. Working longer hours contributes to this natural phenomenon.
Fatigued employees are more likely to make mistakes and may struggle to make wise decisions. This combination can lead individuals to feel stress and anxiety as their work slips and their ability to react diminishes.
Less Employee Engagement
Overworked employees, particularly those who feel obligated to do so due to the company culture or unrealistic expectations, quickly lose their passion for their work. What they once may have enjoyed becomes a burden. They lack the motivation to do their job well or take the initiative to solve problems. These disengaged employees can be a source of frustration for their coworkers and clients, as they portray disinterest in their work.
Presenteeism describes an employee who is physically present at work but is not actively contributing to the work environment. It has many causes, including overworking, fatigue, illness, burnout, personal problems or distractions, anxiety, and stress. While it may seem that going to work is the right thing to do, and employees often feel obligated to do so, showing up for the sake of being there is not helpful to the team. In fact, unproductive peers cause their coworkers to work harder to compensate. It can lead to feelings of resentment among team members.
Rising Healthcare Costs
Long working hours take a toll on the body. It puts employees at risk of injury and illness as a result of both the stress it causes and because it inhibits their ability to take care of themselves.
In small doses, stress motivates us to act. The stress you feel before the big Friday meeting can help motivate you to do your best work. However, living in a constant state of stress leads to severe health conditions, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. These conditions are deadly and increase an employee’s health care costs and sick time.
Excessive overtime can also push employees to engage in unhealthy behaviors that affect their health. With so many responsibilities on their plate, they may sacrifice sleep to get things done. Without time to shop or cook, healthy meals may be replaced by take-out or convenience foods loaded with sodium and processed ingredients. Busy employees will often turn to smoking or drinking to cope with the stress and unwind after a long day in the office.
Higher Employee Turnover
With all the adverse effects on an employee’s personal life, is it any wonder that many who are overworked look for another job? Your talented employees are your most valuable asset. Each employee who leaves takes with them their unique experience and knowledge. For long-time employees, this could mean losing significant skills and insights. Replacing them is impossible, but you will still incur the cost of recruiting and training someone to take their place.
It only takes one employee landing a less demanding job to plant the idea for others that they don’t have to work long hours to be successful. Better work-life balance is possible. To keep your benefits competitive, find out what others in your industry offer. A Salt Lake City recruitment firm can help you evaluate your position and make adjustments as necessary.
Avoiding overwork in your organization requires effort on the part of every team member. It begins with messaging from the top down that every employee’s health and well-being are more important than deadlines. Demonstrate your dedication to your workforce by providing adequate time off for illness and personal problems that may arise. The right company culture and proper tools can help your employees avoid feeling constantly overworked and undervalued.