Results driven or just long hours of work?

25 February 2013 | By Catherine Wheatcroft

Why is there such an inherent habit in business that the perceived ‘norm’ is to work long hours so that you look like you are busy and dedicated? Employees work long hours and quite often, over hours so that they do not appear to be slacking in front of other colleagues that are still ‘working’ after their time to go home. In reality, how much real work is being done in these hours after a full day and tired brain. Is it more the case that we appear to be working but are probably achieving very little?

I have worked for many companies where 5pm arrives and despite having completed your work for the day, you feel guilty about getting up to go home. Your colleagues are still there working away so you feel obliged to stay too even though you are probably totally unproductive and achieving nothing substantial for the benefit of the business.

Surely a better approach would be to look at efficiency and output based work rather than how many hours you have been there for? Paying for hours worked does not benefit the employee, employer or customers that are being charged by the hour.

As an employee, you may well be putting in many hours working later and possibly even weekends. And this probably creates a good impression and gets you noticed for contributing to the team and giving extra commitment to get the work done. But we can all be busy ‘being busy’ and not actually be able to substantiate our time or pinpoint exact achievements for all the hours spent. Working long hours may on the surface appear to be dedicated but the reality is that it leads to burn out, in-efficiencies and a general working attitude of dragging the work out that could take half the time and produce quicker and better results.

Employers should not be satisfied with employees that are working long hours over and above their contracted ones. They should be questioning this and wondering what their employees are doing that means they cannot get it done in the allocated hours. Are employees working in-efficiently or spending too much time procrastinating over decisions. May be there is too much work for the team to manage and it is a resourcing issue. But surely as a manager of a team it would be far better to know that there is a benefit and output to everything your employees are doing. It must be better to know that employees are working on things that directly or indirectly benefit the business bottom line.

We spend an awful lot of time churning stuff out for the sake of it and because ‘it has always been done that way’. Reports and documents for management that only get a glance if they are lucky. The information should already be there for managers to view, without an employee having to waste half a day putting something together. Having meetings about every minor detail, only to come out of the meeting having moved nothing forward, having no outputs and no action plan to move things along. So much wasted time that could be better utilised on client work or getting more business in through the door.

The same issues are equally transferred to the client when they are charged by the hour or for a specific project. There is the potential for over staffing or to take longer over a job than is really necessary. And projects such as software implementations seem to drag on forever because there is a lack of focus on outputs, no sense of urgency because the business is being paid a large capital amount and the project team are not accountable for their time or achievements – so long as it gets implemented at some point.

The solution to all this is simple; you need to instil a new rationale of judging success by the results achieved, rather than how many hours you have worked.
• Have you solved a problem for a client project?
• Have you written a first draft of that tender for a large contract?
• Have you spoken to 20 more businesses that could be interested in buying your solution?
• Have you written that PR article that can be sent to publishers in your sector to get generate more enquiries?

These achievements are what ultimately drive the business and its success – not how many hours you have been sat there for. If you looked at what you achieve during your working hours you would be surprised at how easy it is to streamline it and become more productive to output based work:

• Make meetings no more than 40 minutes and ensure they have a very specific agenda and output. There is no need for long introductory pre-ambles and no need for long debate if the output and options are clear and on the table.

• Cut down on lengthy emails that are about multiple topics or need answers to easy, but many, questions. Pick the phone up and get your answers in half the time!

• Stop reading everything that appears in front of you; learn to read the important items rather than everything, which is time consuming. And particularly, avoid reading the same emails twice. Do not even open the email to scan over it until you can give it time and a response, then read it once, respond and file it as done.

• Don’t agonise over perfection, sitting there re-wording things and changing things needlessly. This is especially true when working with draft documents. Get the key points down on paper to move things forward. Perfecting will come as others contribute or the document is circulated for comment. But there is no point sitting there with blank page syndrome or trying to re-write the same sentence over and again when the point is already there.

• Look at your work and decide those actions and achievements that need doing and focus on them. Make them happen and you will have moved things forward in a productive way.

The key to this approach really is to ask the question: does he task that I am doing add value? Does it contribute directly to sales generation or client work? If you can ask this with everything you do, you will soon find that you are more productive and being seen for achieving results, rather than still being there after 5pm.

The knock on benefits of this are that you are accountable for results, can work sensible hours and have more time for the rest of your life.

Employers and employees should ask themselves, what does the business need to achieve in order to service our clients and potential clients, how can we achieve that in the most efficient way? What are the outputs and results needed that can then be put on the action list? This should be the workload; this is where the targets and employee goals should be focused on. This is where your business can achieve so much more by being driven by outputs.