Professor Robin Ely of Harvard Business School has said the 24/7 work culture “locks gender inequality in place.”
But this is not an article about gender. The chronic overwork culture doesn’t need to change only because it works against women: it needs to change because it’s not working.
Sarah Green Carmichael, senior associate editor of Harvard Business Review (HBR), posed in a recent article that the bigger question is not what has driven us to a 24/7 work culture, or who is to blame, but rather, “Does it work?”
The answer, according to many studies related to employee effectiveness, is no. Within her article, Carmichael highlights that a culture of chronic overwork backfires on employees and companies. Yet the number of hours worked has increased by 9% in the last 30 years. It seems Corporate America is clinging detrimentally tight to the false truth that overwork is a requirement for effective employees and driving company-level success: overwork is overvalued.
Here are four solid reasons why you shouldn’t chronically overwork if you wish to remain engaged and effective in your job and why your firm shouldn’t want you to, either. May this provide insight both for you and the men and women you manage.
1) Overwork may lower your engagement with work.
According to Gallup, nearly 61% of college graduates feel disengaged at work – meaning not “intellectually and emotionally connected,” even when they are physically present in the office, resulting in a major ROI loss for companies.
Data shows that 2/3 of employees feel overwhelmed and 80% would like to work fewer hours. The 24/7 work culture and feeling overwhelmed are major contributors to disengagement. While an “always on” expectation makes it difficult to mentally switch-off, research has suggested that being able to psychologically switch-off from work protects both well-being and work engagement.
If you feel you can never turn off, it would seem you begin to tune out. To stay engaged at work, it’s important not to give into the expectation to live it.
2) Overwork may hurt your productivity.
Research showed that a company couldn’t tell the difference in performance if an effective employee was working 80 hours or just pretending to, so working longer hours may not mean accomplishing more, career-wise too. As graphed in The Economist, longer hours are correlated with decreased productivity. In fact, research has even shown that when working hours are excessive, cutting hours back can actually increase your productivity.
Also, in research with a consultancy firm, required and predictable time-off from work including being digitally switched-off, increased productivity – even if time completely off had to be strictly enforced because employees were in the habit of being constantly switched on. Not only did it improve communication, learning and the client product, but it also resulted in greater job satisfaction, sense of work/life balance, and commitment to managing a career at the firm.
3) Overwork may hinder your ability to lead effectively.
As Ron Friedman writes in an HBR article, while putting in the excessive hours may have marked you as motivated and helped your “early career advancement,” maintaining overwork as part of your work identity once you’ve already arrived to a position of leadership can significantly damage your career prospects.
Leaders need to disconnect to optimize the interpersonal skills, critical thinking, and visionary skills important to their roles. Overwork contributes to mis-reading others (often negatively) and emotional reactivity such as lashing out. Management performance also depends upon judgement, and being tired from overwork impairs your decision-making abilities and clarity of perspective when it comes to identifying problems and creative solutions.
An overworked leader, concentrating to the point of fatigue, is often a cloudy leader, who is also more vulnerable to technology distractions, such as the 3pm workplace Facebook rush.
As Reid writes, overworking also models the behavior as an expectation for those you manage, and there’s enough evidence in this article alone to illustrate why that’s a questionable management practice.
4) Overwork may harm your health.
On top of compromising your job effectiveness, overwork compromises your well-being, a major component of feeling satisfyingly engaged in your work. Studies have shown that overwork is associated with emotional exhaustion and impaired sleep, which is a massive performance killer in addition to compromising health.
It’s also associated with depressive symptoms, heavy drinking, and long-term with heart disease and impairment of brain function when it comes to reasoning. Nothing about this says top management potential. If you’re to be a thriving executive, it’s probably best to start as a thriving human.
What Can You Do To Be More Effective?
But you’re still surrounded with a culture of overwork, so what can you do?
Friedman recommends starting with these small behavior changes:
Find a way not to have your smartphone at your side constantly when away from work, interrupting your present – instead check it with intention. Program evening emails to arrive in the morning, so they don’t catalyze a back and forth conversation after hours. Discern when a response is necessary immediately from when it’s not. Find an activity that you’re excited to leave work for, something else that will give you a sense of gain. While at work, schedule a few breaks in your day so that you can step away, clear your head, and refresh both your energy and perspective.
It’s clear that when you chronically over-extend yourself at work, you may still be there or still be on, but you stop being the same employee. Being an effective leader means managing the asset of your leadership effectiveness, not working until it’s lost to diminishing returns or worse.
By Aimee Hansen