Long Hours vs. Results

I often kid people that they should be paid by the hour rather than a salary because it seems as though they are always at work.  Many companies and individuals think it is a badge of honor to be able to work both early in the morning and late into the evening.  Some even think weekend work is a good idea.  Some businesses like accounting and law firms are able to bill for every working hour, but for the rest of us it is merely a sacrifice of personal time for work time.  Does it really make sense?

Take a look at Monday’s article in the New York Times and see the fallacy of working long hours and the impact it has on productivity.  Before reading the article think back over the last week and try to figure out how much time you spent on work activities and then try to determine how much was productive time vs. how much time was just spent reading email and attending meetings.  Now quickly jot down on a sheet of paper what really resulted from your work during the last week.  Try to be honest and only put down things people would be willing to pay you for.  Do the results really match up with the number of hours spent?  Now a more difficult question.  What did you give up in order to spend all the time you spent at work?

The NYT article provides some very good perspective on the trade-offs between work and personal sacrifice.  Note that there may be times when this is necessary, but to work hours just to look loyal or dependable seems like a real waste.  There is good advice on length of meetings, how much to read and how to write more efficiently.  My biggest takeaway is the role that managers and senior leaders need to play in this whole issue.  If the boss works crazy hours then everyone will think that is what is expected.  If the boss emphasizes a sense of urgency, efficiency and results rather than working long hours and perfection a completely different culture will emerge.

I remember a story early in my career when one of my peers was dinged on his review for not working long hours.  When he responded to the boss, “Don’t blame me because you hired workers who aren’t smart enough to get their work done in a timely manner” the boss used it as a teaching moment for all the rest of us.  Results are what matter, not how long you work on a project.  I also remember one time I was asked to rough out a launch plan overnight for a product that was being rushed through the FDA.  After working on a plan for three hours it was almost as good as the plans we spent months on during a regular planning cycle.  I am sure everyone has examples of work they have done where 90% is done in a couple hours and the last 10% seems to take days to complete.  As a buyer, in many cases, I would love to pay for only two hours and get the 90%!

I love the comment about this phenomenon of working long hours being a remnant of the industrial age.  In this digital era with incredible communication capabilities does anyone still want to be viewed as working in the industrial age?  Perhaps it is time to question the way we work.  If you were paid totally on results how would you do things differently?  How much time would you sacrifice to read email?  How much time would you dedicate to redundant meetings?  How much time would you spend commuting to your office rather than working at home?  Would you spend more time with customers and less time on administrative tasks?  As we move further and further away from the industrial age those that get results will be rewarded and those that just work lots of hours will be viewed as leftovers from a long-past era.  Which would you rather be?

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