Focus On Realistic Workplace Sustainability

One of the most overlooked agile principles is that of ensuring a sustainable pace for our teams.  Harvard Business Review stated; “The fact is, extreme jobs are no longer a rarity. Our data reveal an enormous increase in work pressure for high-caliber professionals across ages, genders, sectors, and continents. Extreme jobs, we’ve found, are distributed across the economy—in large manufacturing companies as well as on Wall Street, in entertainment and media, in medicine and law, in consulting and accounting.”  The same HBR report mentioned that “Across the economy, there are high-earning professionals whose work has become all consuming. The outrageous hours they put into their careers are matched only by the over-the-top rewards they receive.”

There have been a number of studies that have determined there is an overwhelming detriment to consistently working extreme hours.  Of course, there are situations wherein for a short duration, extending ourselves may be prudent and necessary in order to achieve a desired outcome.  That said, allowing overtime to become the dominant cultural norm of an organization can lead to burning out top talent, which will diminish performance in the long run and eventually lead to the probability of a mass exodus of knowledge workers. 

Working longer hours on occasion is inevitable in a competitive business environment.  However, when it becomes a normal occurrence studies show productivity will take a hit.  The simple fact is, when people go beyond a certain threshold they loose focus, become less effective and errors tend to increase.  Henry Ford can be credited with popularizing the notion that working over 40 hours per week yields minimal, if any increase to productivity. Implementing a five-day, 40-hour work week along with a pay raise, was epoch-making especially considering it was in the year 1926.

Today, many companies are experimenting with a four-day, 32-hour work week:  

Microsoft (Japan); “Workers at Microsoft Japan enjoyed an enviable perk this summer (2019): working four days a week, enjoying a three-day weekend — and getting their normal, five-day paycheck. The result, the company says, was a productivity boost of 40%”

The Wanderlust Group (USA); “One year ago The Wanderlust Group moved to a Tuesday-through-Friday four-day work-week schedule. We did it at first to help the team, but it ended up helping the company too.” 

GALT Pharmaceuticals (UK);  “We understand that life is work, but work doesn’t always have to consume life…And time is needed to recharge batteries and dedicate to the self and family.”

KPMG (USA); “We at @KPMG are excited to announce this summer, each and every KPMGer will be given Friday’s off going to a 4 day work week. Basically a long weekend EVERY weekend!”

Although 4-day work week may not be in the immediate future of the vast majority, if provides food for thought to senior leadership regarding setting the expectation, dare I say a requirement of chronic overtime.  That message:  A culture that celebrates the normalcy of long work weeks face the risk of increased exhaustion, physical and emotional illness, and high attrition rates for their staff.  Pensively consider the behaviors being rewarded, required or encouraged.  Invoke the agile principle of sustainability for the longevity of your team and the company overall.  Failure to do so could result in your being left with a ‘B’ team of unmotivated people.  

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