The Truth About Hours, Productivity and Health

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.

Productivity

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.

Health

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:

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?

Leadership

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.

Talent

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.

Sales & Marketing

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.

Invest in the important stuff,

David Mariano
Chief Curator


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Win More By Pitching Less

In many service industries “pitching” is part of the business. Pitching requires a lot of time, costs a lot of money and too often doesn’t result in new business.

What if I told you that you could actually win more if you pitched less?

You may think I’m crazy, but this is just some of the advice given by Peter Levitan in his book “Buy This Book, Win More Pitches.”

Peter, a former agency owner and head of business development for Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, wrote the book primarily for agencies, but the principles apply to other service organizations. Although Peter advises us to be more selective in what we choose to pitch, he acknowledges that it is part of business and offers many great tips on how to win more. In addition to the 12 clever cartoons on how not to win a new business pitch, here are three of my favorites:

  1. Talk more about the client, less about yourself: based on his own experience and interviews with 16 of the world’s leading industry consultants, this is the #1 and most deadly mistake made.
  2. Understand the client’s mindset: Peter teaches you how to dig in to the nature of the assignment, the type of firm the client is looking for and what type of firm will best suit the client’s needs.
  3. Stand out: as much as you want to think your experience, people or process is unique, it isn’t. Clients think you look the same as the rest of your competition so you need to work really hard to find and present that unique angle.

More on pitching:

“Buy This Book, Win More Pitches”

“The Art of the Pitch: Persuasion and Presentation Skills that Win Business”

Leadership

Leading a group of talented and intelligent individuals can be difficult. Large egos make this a challenge, but it is possible. Jodi Berg, CEO of the well-respected Vitamix Corporation, has figured out a way to lead and align with principles, starting with new employee orientation.

No one debates the importance of trust, but few leaders spend time each day consciously trying to cultivate it. The former CEO of The Campbell Soup Company, Doug Conant, states “without a tangible commitment to trust, our outcomes will suffer.” Here is a nice article on why Doug believes building trust is the first thing leaders need to do to achieve extraordinary results.

Talent

Hiring a person is one of the biggest decisions service professionals make. People are everything, but it takes discipline and time – there is a right way to hire the right people.

In my experience, I’ve observed that most leaders of service firms would prefer their people be extroverted versus introverted. I think introverts are generally shunned. This is wrong and a big mistake for advisors and their clients. Here are 16 examples of outrageously successful introverts.

Sales & Marketing

Selling professional services is more complex than most selling situations. It seems most sales books and literature are written for someone else because they don’t fit with our reality. When selling professional services it is important to study and become an expert on how things really work.

Trust is critical in professional services. Gain it and you may have a chance, violate it and you may lose your entire business. Would 83% of your customers recommend you?

Invest in the important stuff,

David Mariano
Chief Curator

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