Less is more!

Eliminating a workplace culture that promotes overworking

It shouldn’t be news to managers and employees alike that long hours in the office do not necessarily equate to higher productivity. In fact, in most cases, spending long hours at the office actually reduces the productivity of workers and is often the cause of stress. Stressed employees are more likely to get sick, make expensive mistakes, become discouraged and eventually, leave their employer.

Alas, despite all the research that’s out there, very few executives are brave enough to reject the culture of overwork. This blog aims to give you some shining examples of best practice in avoiding a culture that promotes overworking , as well as providing some ideas of smaller steps your company can take to buck the trend.

Making the change

New Zealand-based financial services firm, Perpetual Guardian, made the decision to conduct a little experiment into working hours, reducing their usual 40 hour working week to 32 hours- but (and here’s the interesting part) they made no change to the worker’s salary.
Traditional approaches towards productivity in the factories and assembly lines of the late 1800’s would be horrified to hear it! Surely, cutting the work hours should have resulted in a net decrease in productivity? Wrong.

In fact, the exact opposite occurred. The employees had experienced a great jump in their work/life balance, and this led to them being much more effective with their time. Supervisors were quoted as saying that their staff were more creative, their attendance was better, they didn’t leave early, they were on time and they didn’t take long breaks.

It might sound too good to be true but there’s plenty of research and evidence which shows reducing working hours (up to a limit) will not negatively impact productivity but can actually boost it. There’s a number of reasons stated for this. One argument is that when there’s less time to work, there is simply less time to waste and so people are more efficient. Another is that spending less time at work leads to a better work/life balance, less stress, less sickness and, therefore, this is what boosts productivity. Another theory is that reducing working hours for the benefit of the employee simply makes them feel valued and this spurs them on to be more productive with their time out of gratitude to their employer. Managers should never underestimate the power of making employees feel valued.

But moving down to a four-day working week may not be possible for some companies – especially those working in customer service. So, what measures have other brave, forward-thinking executives put in place? One company in Holland has come up with something quite radical but beautifully simple.

The disappearing office

Heldergroen, an Amsterdam-based design studio, has introduced a ‘disappearing-office’ in an effort to create a better work/life balance for its employees. At 6pm, the desks are lifted off the office floor and into the ceiling using a key-operated lifting mechanism and steel cables. Everything on employee’s desks are left in their exact positions for the morning and this gives employees no choice but to leave their desks and their working day until tomorrow. When the desks have been cleared, the employees are free to use the space as they like (as long as it’s not work related) which encourages team bonding. Employees have used the space as a dance floor, yoga studio and for networking receptions.
Click here to see a BBC video report on Heldergroen’s offices.

Although the radical idea of a disappearing office is unlikely to be seen sweeping through offices around the globe anytime soon, the ethos behind the idea is certainly a hot topic. So, what small steps can your company take to move in this direction?

  • Schedule time for breaks
    Put slots directly into your employee’s calendars where they have time to take a break. This will remind employees of their right to take a break and encourage them to move away from their desks. If you time employee breaks to be in the same slot, then this will encourage team building and could even spark a ‘water-cooler’ moment where two people who wouldn’t usually talk in the office have time to share ideas and brainstorm together in a relaxed way.
  • Stock the kitchen
    There is no better way to entice people to take a break than with food. Providing healthy and nutritious food doesn’t need to be expensive; fruit, nuts and fresh coffee come cheap but the boost to worker morale will be huge.
  • Lead by example.
    As a manager, you need to walk the walk. If your employees see you leaving the office on time every day and making the time to take coffee and lunch breaks, they will mimic you. Demonstrating to them the company culture that you want to foster is a sure-fire way to encourage it.
    So, whilst your company might not be ready to dive headfirst into a four-day working week and disappearing desks every evening, it might be that you can try a few ideas in your workspace to test the water. Even something as simple as having fresh coffee brewed once a day for the office to share could be a way to start fostering a culture in your office which respects the need for a healthy work/life balance.

    What have you got to lose?

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