I came across this article highlighting the fact that Wall Street bankers are being encouraged to take Saturdays off. Big names like Citigroup and Goldman Sachs are trying to ensure their people get time away from the office to disconnect from work.
It struck me as interesting that companies mandating weekends off is now news. Before the age of cell phones and social media, did people struggle so much to find that work-life balance?
The tragedy of an overworked employee
Not long after I read that article, I came across the story of a young woman who literally worked herself to death. A 24-year-old copy writer put in more than 30 straight hours of work and then sunk into a coma and died. This is, I hope, a wakeup call for all of us. We live in a day and age where overworking is the norm – and it shouldn’t be.
The story was so sad and unsettling that I thought it warranted a larger discussion.
Why overworking employees needs to stop
The Inc.com article points out a number of reasons to stop working ridiculous hours. I think there are few, in particular, that employers should take note of.
The first reason, as author Minda Zetlin so aptly puts it, ‘you suck when it counts’. Essentially, employees are so exhausted and mentally over extended that they cannot produce their best work. Creativity and problem solving skills are dulled, which is a big loss for the organization. In fact, I recently wrote a blog post exploring the question “is working less the secret to higher productivity?”
Zetlin also points out that overwork leads to impaired judgment. Do you really want your employees making business decisions for your company when their judgment is clouded by sleep deprivation? I sure wouldn’t!
Third, encouraging your employees to be ‘always on’ is detrimental to their health. Studies show being overworked contributes to higher healthcare costs, more sick days used and, ultimately, a shorter working lifespan for your employees.
Think about it this way: would you rather have a top performer work 24/7 for three years, after which point this employee burns out, or have a top performer contribute to your organization consistently over the course of 10 years? I hope you say the latter.
Because encouraging sustainable work habits for your employees will lead to better value for you over the long-term.
Is flexibility versus work-life balance the answer?
We live in a world of 24/7 connectivity that makes disconnecting from work much more difficult than it used to be. Not to mention the fact that Millennials – a generation that is making up more and more of the workforce – were the first to grow up with email on their hip and social media at their fingertips.
Work-life balance these days seems more a myth than anything else.
But maybe the Millennial generation has something to teach us. When we look at their greatest expectations when it comes to their careers, flexibility ranks near the top of the list. They’re not necessarily opposed to being available at 9pm to respond to a client in a different time zone but they want the flexibility to leave at 3:30pm to make their afternoon yoga class. Perhaps this is the model that will lead to a more sustainable, productive workforce.
We all need time to breathe and remove ourselves from work. And given the tragedy of the young woman who gave her short-lived life to her work, I think we have a moral responsibility to move towards a culture that values employee health more. Perhaps flexibility rather than work-life balance is the answer.
Your turn: Do you think we’re overworking our employees? Is flexibility the answer?