E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

You Are Not Perfect! Live With It

Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo's Surroundings in the SpringI really like Inc. I mean, I really heart it. I discovered it by pure chance a few weeks back and I am now completely hooked up to it, mostly not only because of the top quality articles, publications, videos, etc. etc. they keep putting up on their Web site, but also because of how helpful it’s proving to be as an essential resource “to help entrepreneurs and business leaders succeed“. Seriously, if you are looking for topnotch quality content that could very well help you redesign the workplace of the future look no further than those folks. They are doing an outstanding piece of work so far! Ohhh and talking about the workplace of the future, how about if today we spend a few minutes talking about redefining that space embracing over 100 years of research, instead of ignoring it like we have done in the last few years. Ready? Well, here it comes: Stop Working More Than 40 Hours a Week.

Seriously, it’s not helping you become better at what you already do, and, definitely, it’s harming more than you would know, and realise about, and not only your own work, your colleagues’, your customers but, eventually, your business itself in the long run. That is, indeed, the rather thought-provoking premise from a recent Inc. article put together by Geoffrey James under the title: Stop Working More Than 40 Hours a Week which comes out in a rather timeline manner, since I, too, recently blogged about this very same topic under “40-Hour Work Week – The Magic of Sustainable Growth“. 

I am not sure what you folks would think, but I’m starting to find it a rather fascinating topic, that is, how we actually manage work, without trumping our personal lives at the same time. When we all know, giving the current financial turmoil, how more and more is being asked from knowledge workers nowadays, i.e. work longer hours, while on the road, while at your home office where telecommuting is no longer there, therefore you have a couple of extra hours you could make use of, while on vacation, etc. etc. or at a time where we see how pervasive work has become with the emergence of social technologies, but, mostly, also, because of the huge impact on the corporate world by mobile altogether. Yes, it’s expected that we should be putting longer hours on what we are working on; it’s expected that if we don’t do that we are slacking off; it’s assumed that if you don’t work those longer hours, you just basically don’t have enough work, which is, obviously, not seen as a positive outcome, as a knowledge worker. Essentially, it’s just like we can no longer have an excuse not to put longer hours at work, for free, and not only our very own managers would be frowning upon us, but even our very own colleagues, too!

Yes, I know, I can sense all of you out there nodding away in violent agreement with that scenario. But how wrong is it? I mean, there used to be a time when we all used to think that those who remain behind at the traditional office were pretty sad souls who just couldn’t get their work done in 8 hours and therefore were punished to stay behind till they would finish it. Gosh, a few years later, it looks like things have turned around 180 degrees and nowadays it’s actually the opposite: if you leave your (home) office by the end of those 8 hours, something is wrong with your productivity: rather your fault or just basically not having enough work. Where do you think you are going, Mr.?, is probably almost everyone’s perception when you decide to leave the office on time. 

The reality though, as I have blogged in the past, is that numerous decades of research have proved that we start dropping off on our productivity levels when we reach 40 hours, beyond that we keep failing to deliver, yet, we expect people to stick around just because we feel it would make us more productive and therefore provide better business results. How wrong! It’s actually quite the opposite, as Geoffrey nicely describes it on that article I referenced above, as you basically would just be accounting for burnout and eventually be creating more trouble than helping out. Yet, we keep expecting it to take place. Yet, we all feel guilty if we “leave the office” before our colleagues do and we get frowned upon if we don’t stick around long enough. And that long enough is no longer according to your own terms, but someone else’s!

We need to stop that. And the sooner, the better! Yes, social networking tools for business, as well as mobile, are making that job really tough, since work has finally transitioned from a physical space, a la having to go to the physical office every day, to a mental state, where work happens wherever you are. You are work, work is you, as some folks would say, but at the same time You are life, life is you, I would say.  And in most cases we are the only ones who know how to get the best out of it not just for ourselves, but also for those around us, the ones who we care the most about in the first place!

So if that extensive research has proved that 40-hour long work weeks are the best option to remain productive, why don’t we stick around with that notion, instead of giving in to that work and peer pressure? You know, there used to be a time when, back in the day, I always felt sorry for those folks who had to stay behind at the traditional office finishing up work because they just couldn’t finish it off on time. I would try to help as much as I could on my own ability, but time and time again they ended up being on their own. Few years later. I am still sorry, but this time around for those folks who, on purpose, decide to “stay behind in the office” working a few extra hours, for free, without having anything in return, just because it looks good to their bosses and to their peers, because, you know, if you don’t do it, it would look like you would be lazy around. Seriously, why do we keep having this obsession of endless work days with 7, 8, 9 or even 10 hours of meetings, and then have to finish off work, when it’s just that same research I have mentioned above the one that has proved time and time again it’s just an unsustainable model in the long run? What are we trying to achieve eventually?

In a way, we are just killing ourselves, slowly, but steadily, and without even realising it. Yes, I know, we may be all working really hard, specially, now with the pervasiveness of social networking tools within the workplace, because they enable us to put up more work hours breaking the barriers of timezones, geographies, and whatever else, but what at what costs? Is it really worth while sacrificing your only one single life on this planet and those who matter to you the most for that promotion, for that advancement in your career, for that looking good to your boss and colleagues, when eventually, according to that research, you won’t be even capable of enjoying it to the fullest just simply because you would lack the energy, the good health and the ability to do so? Really, do you think it’s worth while the fight? Or aren’t out there much, much, better things that you could be doing instead?

It’s interesting to note how time and time again I always have plenty of people admiring how religious I have become in protecting my own personal, private time, versus work time, in becoming a zealot on how I split up what’s work and what’s everything else. Basically, what I have been talking about in the past around “Work Life Integration“, versus work life balance where I have always claimed that there isn’t such balance because work always wins. What most folks may not know though is that I have become so good at it, because I learned, through the hard way, as usual, how to do it. It goes back to 2004, January 22nd, to be more precise, when I learned that unless you look after your own personal life and make it count, no-one else is going to do it. And I had to reach the state of being in a rather poor healthy status to realise about it. Stress was one of the minor worries at the time. I was very happy I was in time to react and acknowledge that I no longer need to apologise to anyone when I am done with work within those 40 hours. There is no reason to do it. It’s not even worth it. Yes, you may think that you may be risking your own career, but let’s face it, do you want to risk your career or your own life? You know, you still have the choice. Always have.

At a time when most knowledge workers spend 3 years per average on any given job, if not shorter altogether (More on this one shortly!), I guess it’s time that we, knowledge Web workers, start protecting more, and set the boundaries of both work and personal, because at the end of the day, if we ourselves don’t do it, no-one else is going to do it for us. And don’t worry, there isn’t even a need to apologise. To anyone. After all, you are all looking after your own health. And that’s just priceless. And much to treasure for, regardless of what other people may think or say. You would still need to break the chain and keep challenging the status quo to keep your sanity intact. You need it. They need it. We all need it. 

Oh, by the way, if you have got a chance, take a look into the 4 minute long video clip, towards the bottom, (Wish I could share the embedded code below…), included in Geoffrey’s article, that features Lisa Price – President and Founder of Carol’s Daughter – sharing plenty of insights on how she manages it all, no apologies to anyone either, and you will see why I titled this article in the way I did…

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  1. Hi Luis – I can’t agree with you more on how working over 40 hours a week destroys not only the work you’re doing but our ability to better understand the work we’re actually doing, reading, discussing topics to gain insights and in turn innovating and delivering better value to the clients we serve.

    As an example, having left IBM recently, I’ve learned more in a week about topics I have a strong passion in that related to my field and interests than 2 years on the job working 70+ hours a week.

    We hear the argument over and over ‘It’s how you plan’ but when the norm is others are working as many hours as you it makes you wonder.

    I remember at business school a good anecdote where 3M Corp. gave/gives employees 15% of their work week to work on ideas for new products. Imagine if these kind of practice we’re implemented at an ‘overworked’ corporation.

    To your point this is both personal and cultural. Why is it that even very capable leaders don’t see their burning out their workforces?

    Thanks again for the post. It’s invigorated me for the day:)

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