My Dad always told me, “Work smarter, not harder son,” but how many of us actually believe in this old saying? It’s a thought I’ve been pondering even more throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. With many of us spending nearly all our time at home and our workdays protracted to cover virtual meetings, childcare and homeschooling, we’re working longer hours and experiencing more stress while doing it.
It’s popular to romanticize working an ungodly 100 hours a week to achieve your dream, and this may be the path that many entrepreneurs take. However, even pre-corona, we knew this wasn’t a sustainable strategy for a successful workforce as a whole.
Stanford professor John Pencavel’s 2014 study, “The Productivity of Working Hours,” identified a massive drop in productivity and an increase in workplace accidents among industrial workers who spent over 48 hours a week on the job. Another study of British civil servants conducted by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health’s Marianna Virtanen revealed that those who worked 55 hours a week scored lower on cognitive and reasoning tests than their colleagues who worked just 40.
Moreover, it’s not just productivity that suffers when we’re constantly burning the midnight oil. In 2020, Bloomberg rated Germany as the world’s most innovative economy – a country where people work just 34.34 hours a week according to OECD’s 2019 data (only Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands worked less). As a matter of fact, 13 out of the world’s top 20 most innovative economies this year were in Europe where workers spend just 36.23 hours a week on the job.
As leaders in the current reality, we have an even greater imperative to enable our employees to be their most innovative and productive selves. Just as elbow grease is not a business strategy panacea under normal working conditions, expecting our workers to “tough it out” is unlikely to move the needle in a Work From Home (WFH) environment. With this in mind, it is critical that we meet the challenge head-on and have a strategy to:
If there is one thing that has characterized the business environment over the past 50 years, it’s a relentless pursuit of optimality. The pandemic hasn’t changed that. However, COVID-19 intensifies the risk of chronic fatigue, anxiety, short-term rewards, ambition, and an excessive sense of duty driving our teams into innovative no man’s land. Leadership is key to overcoming this hurdle. Be proactive and help your team work smarter, not harder.