Keep to the clock – Why your office should avoid having a long-hours culture

Every business has good reasons to expect its staff to work hard. After all, a company needs people to be productive if it is to meet its business goals and those who demonstrate that they have put in plenty of effort will have every reason to expect praise or promotion if their work bears fruit.

All this is how it should be. But it’s worth noting that, for all but a small minority of people whose main ambition in life is to get to the top of the greasy pole, the matter of work-life balance is very important. Quite simply, most people work to live, not the other way round.

That means staff will have a reasonable expectation that when the end of the day comes, they should normally be able to turn off their computer, pop the stationary back in the desk, grab their coat and head for the door. Not only will they have worked their contracted hours, but they have lives to live outside the office.

However, there can often be the danger in some offices that leaving on time is looked down upon; the people who stay a bit longer to finish a job are first in line for promotions, or at least make more progress with a project. Not only is this a way of climbing the career ladder; it also puts a lot of pressure on people who may have more active lives outside the job.

This kind of scenario can particularly pressurise young people, who are keen to get established in their careers. Also, because they usually do not have families at this stage, it can be assumed they can spare the time.

However, this kind of approach may be highly counter-productive. Firstly, the later people work, the more tired and stressed they will become. Unless people are totally in love with their jobs or their house is poorly heated in winter, they don’t want to be there late and the chances are the amount of extra output will be low. And if they have worked too late one day, they are more likely to be tired and unproductive the next.

Moreover, later working can breed resentment and could persuade some talented people that they should seek alternative employment, meaning you lose them.

There is also a danger that late working can be discriminatory, and not just against younger staff. It might be appreciated that some people have to get home to their families, while those without such responsibilities could be expected to stick around. But that is manifestly unfair on all single people, many of whom will not be young. Indeed, by working later they may have less of a social life, thus perpetuating their situation.

A good work-life balance is always important to a business, so if you want to be successful in recruiting and retaining staff, overworking them and encouraging a culture of long hours is not the way to do it. Ensuring steps are actively taken to avoid this – like insisting staff leave on time or very shortly after – may help create the kind of culture that ensures an office is efficient and productive, but not full of stressed and tired people.

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