Beat Burnout by Working Smarter
“Not a good time to be out of office.”
That’s the response an unnamed source got when she requested vacation. As an Australian working in the U.S., she was appalled.
“In Australia,” she said, “you schedule your vacation and take it—no questions asked. They respect your time off.”
How Work Habits Work Against Us
When it comes to work, Americans are, well, complicated. We work a lot. We skimp on vacations. We even eat at our desks, so we don’t have to stop working.
“I don’t know if I can make it to your party. Work is crazy right now.”
“I didn’t get home until midnight last night! I had to finish this project quickly.”
“I don’t have a day off for the next two weeks. But I’m up for a bonus, so I can’t say no right now.”
Sound familiar? Newsflash: These habits, while seemingly harmless, are incredibly damaging to your psyche.
For employees, long hours with few breaks lead to elevated stress and fatigue. It paves the way for damaging health problems such as depression, heart disease, and strokes. People inevitably limit time with family and friends, which can lead to isolation and an out-of-balance life. Even downtime can be affected since they are distracted by work-related items or too tired to have any fun.
For companies, perpetuating a culture that encourages overworking yields few benefits. Burnt-out employees have little left to contribute beyond long hours. Focus ebbs. Productivity declines. Innovation dies. Tempers rise. Turnover grows. Whether this culture stems from passion, dedication, or a lack of resources, it’s not an environment that nurtures long-term, positive results.
Beat Burnout from the Top Down
So how can companies truly beat burnout? The answer starts at the top.
Like Parzival discovers in Ready Player One, sometimes you have to go backward to move forward. In a business context, this means leadership must encourage more time off to get better results.
It starts with leading by example. Executives often define culture, and employees look up to them to understand how they should act. A few ideas on how executives can show support for work/life balance include:
- Institute company policies and attitudes that encourage time off. For example, some businesses offer employees sabbaticals. Others monitor PTO days and give gentle reminders to use them.
- Lead by example, meaning go home on time and unplug as much as possible. More importantly, ask employees to do the same. (STOP those after-hour emails!)
- Don’t praise employees for working overtime. Shift the conversation to vacations they’re planning or other future ideas of what they will do with their time off.
- Encourage realistic deadlines. Business doesn’t have to grind to a halt but properly prioritizing tasks cuts back on overtime needed to meet unnecessary deadlines.
- Mix things up. Hold a meeting outdoors. Invite guests to speak. Hold off-site meetings in fun environments.
- Evaluate resources. If everyone is overworked, it may be because you have too few people. Is it time to add more employees to the team?
How to Increase Productivity Without Increasing Hours
With employees working less, how can you avoid sacrificing productivity? These days, you work smarter, not harder. Hours don’t necessarily equate productivity. Instead, the real badge of pride is how much you can accomplish in the time you do work.
First, start with happier, more focused professionals. Now that there’s no pressure to work overtime, employees are in a position to yield a higher quality of results.
Second, look at processes within your company. Can they be fine-tuned to take less time? For example, consider bill payment. If you’re using paper checks, it’s a surprisingly arduous process that’s inefficient and wastes employee time. There’s got to be room for improvement, right?
Third, explore how technology can help you do more in less time. For example, to tackle the inefficiencies stated above, just switch to a digital solution! You’ll take the hassle out of the paper check shuffle and add in technology that automates the review process. Without giving anything up, employees will now have more time to dedicate to other responsibilities. And you’ll find that your company will actually gain in productivity.
So next time you’re tempted to work after-hours, reevaluate. And ask yourself—is there a way to work smarter instead of harder?