Busyness has become a terrifying badge of honor in our ever-connected workplaces. While many workers see busyness as a symbol of how important and in demand they are, we see it as a trap that keeps us perpetually overworked and increasingly stressed. In fact, 76% of respondents to a Korn Ferry study said workplace stress "had a negative impact on their personal relationships."
What’s worse is that the increasing hours are not necessarily correlated to better output. When we’re overwhelmed, we end up defaulting to tasks (e.g., answering emails) rather than high value strategic work. We end the day exhausted with too little to show for it.
Given the power of social norms, however, it’s challenging for ambitious individuals to make better choices when they are surrounded by colleagues flaunting their busyness. It’s up to organizational leaders to shift the culture in order to make it sustainable for themselves and everyone else.
Here are four simple things leaders can do to promote healthier ways of working:
Stop Working 24/7. It’s been quantitatively established that leaders who send late night and weekend emails have employees who do too. While I love the quiet of working on the weekend, I am careful not to send emails to the team. Instead, I put them in my draft folder and send them all first thing Monday morning. I can feel highly productive without causing any guilt for the rest of the team.
Get A Life. When you live to work, the team will assume that they should too. Make sure you talk loudly about your life outside of work. And if kid commitments or volunteerism are the reason you choose to work late nights or at the crack of dawn, tell your team that too. The more they know, the more they will recognize it as your choice and feel empowered to make their own choices.
Recognize Efficiency. What leaders notice and reward is what employees model. If you regularly praise the early birds for their ‘dedication’ and tease the ‘slackers’ who regularly make it home in time for dinner, you are telling the team that hours worked is what matters. Go out of your way to recognize the quality of contribution and results rather than time spent.
Calibrate Expectations. One of the common causes of overwork is mismatched expectations. You casually said you wondered how sales differ by customer segments and the next thing you know there’s a 30-page report on your desk. Make sure to distinguish the importance, urgency and level of effort you expect when you make new requests.
We believe that working in a high performing organization doesn’t require sacrificing a fulfilling life. Make that true for yourself and your team and watch what happens.