Working hard and putting in long hours is often touted as a sure-fire way to get ahead and be successful, but it’s also bad for your health. A recent study published in the U.K. medical journal The Lancet found people who work more than 55 hours a week have a 33 percent higher risk of suffering a stroke than those working 35 to 40 hours a week. In addition, working long hours may be associated with a higher risk of coronary heart disease.
With this information, companies with cultures that reward success at any cost or simply sitting at a desk for long hours may want to reconsider their approach. A culture that combines a drive for productivity with a balanced approach to work and life could also result in healthier employees — which could mean lower health care costs. It also could mean lower turnover.
High voluntary turnover is a good indicator your company culture may be making employees feel like they have no choice but to work long hours, says Neal McNamara, communications manager at employee engagement software company TINYpulse. If you’re churning through employees at a rate that doesn’t make sense in your industry, you’ll need to dig a little deeper and find out if long hours is part of the problem.
Consider Alternative Schedules
A workaholic culture can lead to a lack of sleep, making people more susceptible to stress and illness, says Cord Himelstein, vice president of marketing and communications at employee recognition firm Michael C. Fina. Not everyone fits the 9-to-5 (or later) schedule, and employers may be expecting employees to be at work when they aren’t at their most productive.
Look at flexible scheduling options, such as allowing people to come in earlier or later as long as they get their work done in a day without disrupting the business. Four-day workweeks and telecommuting can also incorporate the flexibility that makes it possible for people to rest and recharge. “It’s time to rethink the antiquated 9-to-5, five-day workweek,” Himelstein says.
Lighten the Load
It may be that your employees feel like there’s just too much to do and they can’t possibly leave work on time and put off tasks until tomorrow. Take an inventory of how people are spending their time, McNamara says. Are there things they can outsource or delegate to clear their schedules? Working smarter, not harder, can help boost productivity without working longer hours.
Remember Employees Are People
Business leaders need to examine their attitudes toward employees across the board and avoid treating them like machines, says Howard Matalon, a member of The Alternative Board and the labor and employment law partner at OlenderFeldman. As with any business asset, employees require care and maintenance to stay productive throughout their tenures.
Put a priority on taking breaks, rotating shifts and providing variety in daily tasks to keep employees engaged and refreshed, Matalon says. Informal social gatherings can communicate that the company values employees for who they are. Finally, if long hours are unavoidable, incentive programs that reward achievement can reduce the psychological impact of fatigue and stress, he says.