We have a tendency to assume that working harder and/or longer automatically improves productivity, but that mindset is far from accurate. As odd as it may sound, giving employees more time off and frequent breaks could help you get more bang for your buck and let your employee’s live better lives. If you are having recruiting problems then try our free applicant tracking system with resume template. Recruiteze is the best free recruiting software for 2018! Start your free trial by clicking here.
Working Longer Hours Doesn’t Aid in Productivity, It Hinders
When an employee becomes overworked, their motivation drops, they feel drained, or even exhausted in some instances, and their mental faculties weaken. It actually becomes impossible for them to perform but so well. It’s like trying to drive a car when the gas is running out.
Yes, you need lots of work done, but hours worked does not necessarily equal work completed, or completed well. You may actually be better off giving employees more freedom regarding their hours and optimizing the work environment for higher productivity. You can get more work from fewer hours, creating a better situation for everyone.
This isn’t idealistic drivel. The most powerful companies utilize this concept to ramp up their productivity targets, offer employees a complex mixture of benefits to optimize the working environment, give employees meaningful time off, and improve their overall wellness. They’re doing that because they see that it works, that investing in their employees’ wellness and optimizing work loads pays off. They are also backed by science.
This discussion paper from 2014 for The Institute for the Study of Labor, IZA, showed:
“The relationship is nonlinear: below an hours threshold, output is proportional to hours; above a threshold, output rises at a decreasing rate as hours increase.”
The threshold given in this paper was 48 hours. So, up to 48 hours of working, employee productivity is probably proportional to the amount of hours they are working. After that amount of time, productivity suffers in ever increasing amounts the longer they work.
How Wellness or Lack-thereof Impacts Productivity
Mental and physical health directly impacts employees’ ability to work. Without proper food, rest, and self care, the brain literally can’t function to its fullest. While a business owner can’t and shouldn’t micromanage their employees’ health, they should definitely not use policies that impede their employees’ ability to maintain their health and they can encourage wellness.
Health factors impacting productivity:
- Insufficient rest leads to fatigue in the workplace, lack of concentration, and reduced mental capabilities.
- Stress from being overworked clouds the mind and makes it not work as well as it should.
- Anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses need proper care for an employee to work their best, just as a physical illness does.
- Working hungry impacts mental functions, energy, and concentration.
- Eating improper diets reduces mental functions and energy.
- Physical health also improves comfort on the job and improved mental function.
This 2017 study from the UCLA School of Management revealed:
“The authors analyzed three years of health and efficiency data at an industrial laundry company and found an apparent 4 percent gain in the average worker’s productivity — roughly one day of productive work a month per employee. Those whose health improved during the course of the study, whether they had pre-existing health problems or were already considered healthy, posted significant gains of 10 percent or more.
The authors estimate that the wellness program had a 76 percent return on investment, a figure that they say could be much higher if more employees participated and if turnover could be reduced.
What explains the productivity gains? The study doesn’t provide a definitive answer but it suggests two potential reasons. One, the programs can demonstrate a corporate commitment to employee well-being and can make workers who participate feel more motivated to work harder. Two, the programs can result in healthier workers whose productivity improves because they are actually better able to do their jobs. This explains how the largest productivity gains came from those, sick or healthy, who saw their health improve during the program.”
More Than Health
Subtracting hours to improve productivity can go further than focusing on what’s healthy. Some management strategies may be acceptable health-wise but they are still not quite as productive as other techniques that increase engagement.
Productivity is about more than maintaining wellness; employees should also be engaged. Working long stretches of time or working ineffectively negatively impact productivity even if it the situation is not unhealthy.
Tips to Improve Productivity By Subtracting
Food Before Work
Way back in 1917, Thomas Loveday, as quoted in the paper above, proved that being fed was imperative to productivity.
“Work before breakfast (“an inheritance partly from the necessary habits of agriculture”) was both harmful to the worker’s health and also relatively unproductive work time. He maintained that ‘food should precede work’.”
Don’t make employees start work before eating, and do encourage them to eat before working. Supply employees with resources on eating healthy for themselves and productivity and consider offering healthy snacks.
The Harvard Business Review also describes the importance of what employees eat,
“Food has a direct impact on our cognitive performance, which is why a poor decision at lunch can derail an entire afternoon.”
Most of the implications with that fact should be covered in another post, but for this post, regarding time, business owners should make sure that employees have enough time to get and enjoy a healthy meal rather than scarfing down whatever is quick-to-eat and non-perishable.
A Full Day Off
Thomas Loveday was also reported to believe, “From the sickness rates at different munitions factories, he concluded that ‘the effect of long hours, much overtime, and especially Sunday labour, upon health is undoubtedly most deleterious’.
Employees should always have a day off per week to relax and recharge. Also, encourage them to not remotely tune into work via their cell phones or emails on their days off. A day off isn’t really an effective opportunity to rest if you’re still working.
Mobility and Short Breaks
Encourage employees to walk around. Sitting or standing for too long makes employees uncomfortable and bored. Neither of those states makes a person productive. Allow them frequent opportunities to walk, even if it’s just a short distance. They might dust something, straighten something, take a document to someone, grab a drink, anything.
Inc.com gave this tip that adds to this idea:
“Schedule short breaks so that employees can interact and check in with loved ones.”
Here’s a great tip from Healthline:
“The Atlantic reports that the perfect work-break balance is 52 consecutive minutes of work and 17 minutes for break. So take 17-minute breaks throughout your day to walk outside, talk with a friend, or do some light stretching. This might help you overcome daytime sleepiness.”
Opportunities to Improve Wellness
Give them access to resources to improve their wellness such as access to a spa, masseuse, a gym, or a rec room. and encourage them to use them even if it means taking an unscheduled break or coming in thirty minutes late. This is a valuable opportunity for employees to improve their wellness in real time.
Alex Pentland, Director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, shares the following information with the Harvard Business Review:
“We advised the center’s manager to revise the employees’ coffee break schedule so that everyone on a team took a break at the same time. That would allow people more time to socialize with their teammates, away from their workstations. Though the suggestion flew in the face of standard efficiency practices, the manager was baffled and desperate, so he tried it. And it worked: AHT fell by more than 20% among lower-performing teams and decreased by 8% overall at the call center. Now the manager is changing the break schedule at all 10 of the bank’s call centers (which employ a total of 25,000 people) and is forecasting $15 million a year in productivity increases. He has also seen employee satisfaction at call centers rise, sometimes by more than 10%.”
Offer them flexibility. If you can offer an employee the opportunity to leave an hour early or choose the specific days they work each week, they can better manage their work/life balance. It is important for employees to take care of things they need taken care of so they don’t worry about it at work.
If possible for the work to be done, work-from-home days are a great option for helping employees maintain a healthy work/life balance.
Offer paid time off as a reward for high productivity. It could be a nice reward for anybody and a valuable tool when employees have an emergency or need to take a mental health day.
In a previous post we wrote:
“Does business slack off during the summer or just after Christmas? Maybe you could shave a little time off the work day too. Less time might not be the answer, but different hours. In your town, there may be an event that affects how things run in the whole town, you might open or close at different hours while that is going on, or do the same during the summer or during daylight saving time fall back periods so people don’t have to arrive before sunrise.”
Giving employees a little extra time to take care of themselves and energize their brains is an investment in productivity. At first glance, you may be thinking, less time equals less work, but because these policies improve productivity, you will actually get more and better work from your employees.
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