A Long Hours Culture is an expression of defeat

It amazes me that in this century we are still talking about a long-hours culture. Research completed in the UK by the TUC reported in the Independent states employees in the UK work an average of 7.18 hours of unpaid overtime every week. Interestingly, a survey by Ortus Recruitment showed that only 1 in 10 professionals consider flexible working to be important, amidst speculation this is because they believe it will only be introduced to benefit the business.  “The TUC said some unpaid overtime was down to heavy workloads.  But it believes much of the extra hours being put in were down to “pointless presenteeism”. Staff being judged on the hours spent at their desk rather than the work they do”.

Long hours

I’ve worked in and with many organisations with a long-hours culture.  However, I’ve never subscribed to such a senseless way of working personally.   If it were demanded of me, I would have asserted my rights.

Before you get the picture that I cheerily leave the office at the stroke of 5.30 every day, I have to say just because I don’t subscribe to a long-hours culture, doesn’t mean I sometimes don’t work long hours.  Because I do, but not because of the culture. Because the ebbs and flows of the work demand it, at times, but not all of the time.

I have known leaders who have judged an employee’s performance by the number of hours they’ve worked. And sometimes by how late they stayed at the office. But frankly, they didn’t engender respect because employees knew their judgement was ill-conceived and more about either wielding power or as a crutch to stifle their fear of not being able to deliver.

24/7 Lives

We live 24/7 lives, and economically every employer wants to get every last penny of value from their salaried employees. Of course, they do.  Although anyone with any real management skills understands if a permanent long hours culture is necessary the business is not being managed well and will not be sustained over the long term.

That’s not to say there aren’t times when employees might be expected to pull out the stops occasionally. For example; if there is a rush order, crisis or a situation which is temporary or seasonal. This has to be balanced with sensible give and take, and a mature attitude and commitment to get done what needs to be done.

Some organisations are resistant to introducing a flexible working regime.  They may have created a long-hours culture, and are scared to let it go. They fear employees will take advantage of them and want it all the way. This reluctance I believe stems from a lack of confidence to introduce a way of working flexibly with a win/win outcome. I don’t advocate it’s always easy, but it can be done.

If you have a long-hour culture or a rigid 9 – 5 culture and you want to change it: Here are some suggestions on how to achieve a healthier way of working, which will allow you to ditch long hours for good.

1.  Operate a Smart Performance Regime

Set outcome-based targets and objectives. This will allow employees the freedom to fit work around their particular style of working as well as their lifestyle. Objectives can be adjusted depending on capability and business needs, but the focus is not on watching the clock

Evaluate productivity. Long hours do not necessarily mean that employees are working to full capacity. It might be that someone who leaves at 3:30 p.m. to pick up the kids every day is more productive than someone who stays until 6:30 p.m.

Continuously improve efficiency or lean ways of working. The aim here is to make processes and procedures slick and time-bound, the focus being on reducing hours rather than extending them.

2.  Cost out the commercial benefits of a workforce with a healthy work/life balance

Gather together the associated costs of unhealthy working hours. Stress-related absence; or even higher than average sick absence, may be costing the business dearly. The costs of presenteeism, where people attend work when they are ill, are higher than if they were absent. A healthy working pattern can increase employee engagement, lead to greater commitment, and reduce turnover, to name a few of the benefits. Develop a matrix of improvements you’d like to see as a result of operating more flexibly to fit with your team’s lifestyle, so you can measure the win/win element.

3.  Set out clear standards and bottom-line expectations

There are always boundaries and it is being clear about what these are. If people want to leave early sometimes, then there are always provisos. For example, if there are minimum volumes of work to be done. Standards have to be met. Or even if there has to be someone there to answer the phone. Don’t micromanage. Let teams sort out the arrangements themselves. If standards aren’t met, make sure the team is made accountable. Make it clear flexibility is ok, but that the work has to be done.

4.  Plan for ebbs and flows

Employees need to understand the pattern of ebbs and flows. Although there will always be some unexpected emergencies where employees might need to stay.  Most situations can be planned. Set out what needs to be done and give the team ownership of delivering.

5.  Show genuine gratitude when employees do pull out the stops

Never let the additional effort go without at the very least a “Thank You”. Employees like being appreciated. They want to feel they are making a difference just as much as you do. They will feel they are if you sincerely convey gratitude to them for going the extra mile when the situation demands.

Remember a healthy work culture, instead of a long-hours culture may include times when it is right for employees to work long hours for short periods. A motivated and happy workforce will often “up their game” when a crisis hits or change is occurring.

The trick is to recognise when a long-hours culture is in place simply for the sake of it. This is when good workers become demotivated as otherwise great performance is ignored because they don’t choose to burn the midnight oil.

  • About the Author
  • Latest Posts

I help leaders develop self- mastery, helping them to become confident in their own inner guidance.

I collaborate with leadership experts, managers and HR professionals to help them get their own message and unique services and products to a wide audience.