Long hours have become the norm in professional services. The hours are often attributed to the effort required to deliver the highest levels of customer service, and other times simply due to genuine love for the work and desire to succeed.
Happy clients are a must and getting the work done right takes time, but much of what we believe about hours and productivity just isn’t true and the effect on our health (not to mention, employee attrition) is something we can’t ignore.
Public Service Announcement: You may dislike or find controversial some of the research below. But please consider, just for a moment, how this reality impacts you and your team. You will find a few more questions to ponder at the bottom of the page.
You would think the equation is straightforward: work 40 hours and generate X amount of work, work 60 hours and generate X * 1.5. But this isn’t at all how it works.
Recent research from Stanford has shown that productivity declines sharply after 50 hours per week, and then plummets after 55 hours. The data shows that output at 70 hours a week is no different than output at 56 hours – the extra 14 hours are a waste of time.
The negative effects on productivity are compounded by the fact that most people who work longer hours sleep less. Sleep deprivation makes you work slower and results in more mistakes. The effects are worse later in the day and low amounts of sleep on a regular basis results in declining performance over time.
This is not to say that surging every once and awhile isn’t OK. It has been shown that you can achieve short-term gains by working 60-70 hours per week, but then the effect reverses. Daily productivity falls off sharply in the second week and declines rapidly each successive week.
We are at a point in history where we are all becoming more health conscious, even if it is just to save a little money on our health insurance. It turns out that hours worked should also be factored into the equation.
My personal experience with long hours gave me an idea of the negative impact on my health, but I had no idea how bad it really was. According to a study from the University College of London, working more than 11 hours a day increases your risk of heart disease by 67%, compared with those working a standard 7-8 hours a day.
Jobs with longer hours have been shown to have a 61% higher injury rate. An interesting fact is that jobs with long hours were not found to be more risky because they are concentrated in inherently “hazardous” industries. Professional services clearly aren’t considered hazardous and we aren’t likely to cut off a finger, but we can still get injured in other ways (commuting, travelling, etc.). At a minimum, when hours are long and people sleep less, the impairment on judgement and alertness is similar to that of someone under the influence of alcohol.
Employees who work long hours in demanding professions are also more likely to develop depression. The likelihood of depression is higher for junior or mid-level professionals, perhaps because of the lack of control over the work. Depression has also been linked to sleep deprivation, so you can see how this is all linked.
More on hours, productivity and health:
- Article: Are You As Busy As You Think?
- Article: Long Working Hours and Cognitive Function
- Article: Long Working Hours and Coronary Heart Disease
- Article: The Effects of Hours of Work on Health: A Meta-Analytic Review
- Article: Long Working Hours Linked to Increased Risky Alcohol Use
- Article: Why Working More Than 8 Hours a Day Can Kill You
- Article: Working Hours and Premature Death
- Article: Combination of Long Hours and Overwork Increases Depression Risk
- Podcast: Executive Depression – It Is Real
I know it seems impossible that long-hours will ever go away, but if the research above describes the reality:
- What does it mean about the real productivity of our colleagues? What is the impact on turnover and work quality? What does it mean for the physical and mental health of our colleagues and their relationships? How then do these seemingly “personal” issues impact our businesses?
- What if we were to reconsider the entire business model of our service organizations? What if old titles, roles, and operational and cultural norms were all torn down and we had to start again? What is possible given the vast, global human and technological resources available to every one of us?
Professionals often need to keep emotions at bay when giving advice or making judgment calls, but leadership has a different set of rules. Employees today increasingly want to be led by leaders who seem more human and less by those just looking to manage tasks. Here are 8 behaviors that make for great leaders mined from the 10,000 observations in Google’s year-long Oxygen Project.
I would argue that service organizations require more talented leaders than other forms of business because of how people intensive everything is. As you look to the future, keep in mind that superstars don’t always make good leaders.
The statistics on employee engagement are pretty bad these days. If you are wondering what to do about it, here is a solid approach to creating a wide-awake and engaged workplace.
Despite the disturbing side of engagement statistics, plenty of companies are going their own way and producing amazing results. Consider these seven things great employers do to get engaged workers to outnumber actively disengaged workers by a 9:1 ratio.
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Professionals services are dominated by men. I don’t know why it is still this way but I wish it would change faster. Women have so much to offer our organizations, including a fresh perspective on selling that gets results.
Sometimes we have a choice of selling our clients what they think they want (probably a lower margin offering) or taking the time to educate them on what they really need.
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