Watch face. The global phenomena for our long hours work culture is failing organisations, as well as employees.  Strong leadership means removing the stigma of leaving on time and proactively rewarding those who work ‘smart’ – not hard.

working hours:
It’s time to call time

27th November 2018

The global phenomenon for our long hours work culture is failing organisations, as well as employees. Strong leadership means removing the stigma of leaving on time and proactively rewarding those who work ‘smart’ – not hard.


Last Wednesday, Australia marked “Go Home On Time” Day. This was the tenth year that Aussie workers have raised awareness of this global epidemic – where working beyond the usual 9 to 5 has become the norm. According to Australia’s Institute Centre for Future Work, Aussies work around an extra 3.2 billion hours per year, foregoing $106 billion in unpaid wages.

Down Under, workers give on average an extra six hours free per week to their employer. This adds up to an extra two months per annum. The 2018 survey shows that unpaid overtime has increased by an average of 5.1 hours per worker, per year.

A little closer to home, the U.K.’s “National 4pm Friday Finish” took place in mid-September. Launched in 2017 (by the drink manufacturer Redbull – but that aside), the aim was to highlight a growing need for companies to address the thorny issue of work-life balance and encourage people to curb the hours spent in the office.

Work less, perform better

If you were one of the lucky ones who got to take part in either of these events, you’ll no doubt be familiar with much of the research that has been undertaken of late, which shows that working less doesn’t necessarily mean producing less. In fact, according to a study carried out in Sweden, working a six-hour day can improve performance. In 2016, nurses working in a retirement home took part in an experiment to see if working a six-hour day - whilst retaining eight-hours pay – had any impact on performance. The results showed that productivity actually increased as a result of spending less time in the workplace.

Of course, when it comes to work-life balance, the Scandinavians and the Germans tend to lead the way. The Organisation for Economic and Social Development (OECD) reported earlier this year that whilst Germany worked the least number of hours annually, productivity was 27% higher than it is in the U.K.

Breaking work habits can be difficult, particularly if those around you are nervous of changing their own behaviours. Which is why it needs managers to act as the catalyst for change.

We all know that despite the underlying expectation for workers to go the extra mile, the long hours work culture is not only counterproductive, it’s unhealthy too.

A few weeks ago, the U.K. Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, called for businesses to do more to protect the mental health of its workers. Prevention – rather than cure – is seen as the way forward in stemming the mental health pandemic. But it takes business leaders to really step up and minimise the pressure put on individuals, be permanently glued to their emails, for it to really work.

In the summer, I spoke with a friend who commented that it was becoming commonplace for French employees to resist leaving the office on time in Paris. This means workers arrive home late, causing them to eat and sleep much later. The next morning, they get into work tired and put off big projects until after lunch. To ensure they complete their tasks, they then stay late to finish and so the vicious cycle begins again.

Managers must reassess their organisational practices

Breaking work habits can be difficult, particularly if those around you are nervous of changing their own behaviours. Which is why it needs managers to act as the catalyst for change.

From time to time, all those who lead teams should assess how well their employees are working. It’s not simply about ensuring people switch off and go home. It’s also about making sure workloads are manageable. It’s about looking at how teams function and what each member contributes. Whether all those meetings you’ve scheduled are absolutely necessary. And if priorities are really being effectively – well – prioritised.

In a previous role I held, our weekly executive team meetings were conducted on our feet. The aim being that by standing up, it would encourage us to be time efficient and not spend too long chewing the cud. Sadly, the meetings remained long and rambling, causing me to focus solely on my sore feet!

Ask most managers and they will say an extra pair of hands will always help relieve the pressures put on a department. Of course, spreading the workload can be helpful, but quite often when teams grow, processes become more complex and convoluted, reversing the positive impact an increased headcount creates.

Removing the stigma is key

But the key to tackling our over-work culture is removing the stigma of going home on time. The modern-day workplace is a stressful and busy environment at best. It demands a lot of all employees – there will always be a job to be done. And so, it is the responsibility of good leaders to positively reinforce the notion that it’s ok to leave. To practice healthy habits and actively encourage others to follow suit. Rewarding those who work ‘smart’ – not hard.

Some years ago, a colleague moaned that she always ended up stuck in the office, long after those with childcare responsibilities had gone home. This prevented her from finding the time to “…make kids of her of own.”. To some extent she had a point. But what really shone out was the lack of leadership within the organisation. There was an assumption that someone would always stay late and often that fell to the same people.

Relying on a core collective to pick up the can is not a demonstration of effective leadership. It damages morale, reputation and productivity. So, it’s time for leaders and managers to do different and call time on working hours.

Watch face. The global phenomena for our long hours work culture is failing organisations, as well as employees.  Strong leadership means removing the stigma of leaving on time and proactively rewarding those who work ‘smart’ – not hard.
Breaking work habits can be difficult, particularly if those around you are nervous of changing their own behaviours. Which is why it needs managers to act as the catalyst for change.