For some time now, there’s been a concerning trend which has been emerging. It’s apparent whenever you scroll through LinkedIn, read industry articles which talk about how the brightest and the best got to where they are today, or even have a conversation with friends about how their organisations work.
Despite the advances in technology, the rise of remote working, and the studies we have seen which, time and time again, prove that shorter working days result in greater productivity… it seems that there is still a clear belief that, to be successful, to get ahead… you have to be working every waking hour. Not in the office until 10pm at night most days of the week? Then you might as well kiss that promotion goodbye right now.
I take objection to this on a number of different levels. I suppose, if it was true – that more hours in the office equated to delivering better results – then I could grudgingly accept it. But it’s not. It’s simply not. If anything, the reverse is the case. There are multiple studies which prove that productivity levels fall, not rise, the more hours that are worked – and these date back hundreds of years.
In the nineteenth century, when factory owners were forced to limit working hours due to new legislation, they discovered that output actually increased. Harvard Business School repeated this experiment more than one hundred years later and discovered that it still held true. More recently, the high profile trial in Sweden, where workers in a care home worked six hour rather than eight hour days, led to less sick leave and a considerable boost in productivity – with nurses organising 85% more activities for their patients.
With all of the evidence stacking up, the fact that hours spent in the office still appear to be the primary benchmark of performance for a number of organisations – and business leaders – is both startling and concerning. It is time for this to shift.
There are so many reasons why basing your views on performance on how visible or otherwise an employee is in the office is totally wrong. As the studies outlined above have proved, there’s likely little correlation between the two. It’s also directly discriminating against those who, for whatever reason, can’t be in the office for extended periods – whether because they’re remote workers, have caring responsibilities, or just have commitments outside of work which mean they can’t and won’t spend their evenings working unpaid.
I suspect that part of the reason hours visible in the office have become such a commonplace method of performance measurement is because it’s the easy option. Setting up frameworks which reward employees for delivery, not the hours they are seen to be working, takes considerable time and energy. Monitoring output, not time spent at a desk, requires far greater management intervention.
Time to challenge ourselves
But it is the shift we need to see. And so, for all organisations and business leaders reading this, I would encourage you to challenge yourself. When you look at those employees around the business who you consider to be high performing and next in line for promotion… is that truly the case? Are you measuring that based on their output, or based on their visible hours in the office?
If the latter, then this needs to change. It needs to change because failure to do so will mean that your productivity stagnates, and your employee experience is severely eroded. Work with your HR teams and your line managers to devise clear methods for measuring output. Share these with your organisation, and obtain employee buy in. Remind employees that it’s not how much time they spend at their desk, it’s what they are delivering which will be used as a marker of success. Remind them… and then keep reminding them, because this culture of presenteeism is often deeply ingrained within certain businesses.
Lead by example. Show your employees that you mean what you say by not being the first person in the office and the last person to leave every day. Challenge those who are regularly there outside of working hours. What is it about their current working practices which means that they can’t fully deliver inside of the working day? How can you work with them to help alleviate this?
Introduce flexible working patterns for all. Not only does this substantially improve the employee experience, it also helps you to move away from a culture where people are expected to be at their desk between rigid and set times.
Trust your people to deliver
And, most importantly of all… trust. Trust your people to deliver for you. Trust that they will deliver, whether they are sat at their desk between 9am and 5pm, working from home between school runs, working on a beach in the sunshine, or working from their bed between 10pm and 1am because that just happens to be when they are at their most productive. Don’t wait for them to earn your trust. Start from a position of trust. If you’re hiring someone you don’t trust, you’ve brought the wrong person into your business.
The employee/employer relationship has to start with trust. Sure, if that trust gets broken, then you need to address it… but everything comes from trust. Empower your people – like the independent, intelligent adults that they are. Provide them with the tools and the working pattern which allows them to be most efficient. Trust them to deliver. Support them and guide them. Do that… and everything else will follow.