Profitability is the holy grail of most organizations. Organizations want to have better margins so they can increase their footprint, invest in their future, and attract investors. However, organizations working to improve their profitability by expecting people to work too much may find themselves on the wrong side of the expense curve — because while doing more with less isn’t always bad for the bottom line, overextending employees often is.
From a talent-management perspective, there are 2 intertwined assumptions that can cause unexpected damage to the bottom line:
- The assumption that more hours worked equals more productivity
- The assumption that technology aids productivity
More Hours ≠ More Productivity
A common assumption is that the more hours people work, the more productive they are, and the more profitable the organization will be. At first glance, using hours-worked as a proxy for effectiveness and productivity seems to make sense, because when people are working more hours the presumption is that they are creating additional value.
The problem is, every additional hour of work doesn’t equate to an increase in productivity. In fact, working too many hours actually impedes productivity, both for individuals who are working too many hours and for their teams, resulting in a substantial decrease in effectiveness.
The costs are there — they’re just hidden. People who work too many hours don’t get enough time to recover. Without enough time to recover from work, the resulting exhaustion impedes productivity, leads to accidents, illness, emotional dysregulation, and mistakes.
The reason behind the diminishing productivity can be explained by what social scientists call the effort-recovery model. This model emphasizes that recovery is essential after a period of extended effort.
Insufficient recovery can result in diminished performance. Rest provides the fuel necessary for hard work.
But more and more, people aren’t getting the respites that are critical for their continuing effectiveness. This is especially true if they are working too many hours, which many seem to be doing today.
For example, a survey of managers, executives, and professionals found that “workweeks” generally include weekends and an average of 72 hours of work. While the per-hour cost of employees may be lower because they are working 72 hours a week rather than 40, the extra hours they are working are actually reducing both their productivity and the productivity of others.
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