My good friend Richard C, back from a well deserved holiday, published a new post on how many hours the average British business owner works and how overtime seems to be more the 'standard' than a one-off when absolutely needed.
Subjects like that always makes me wonder. Why has 'overtime' become the standard? It reminds me of the significant difference in working hours between 2 departments in the company I worked for back in The Netherlands.
Many, many years ago I worked in the Admin - IT department with around 6 colleagues. Our work day started at 8.30am, we had an hour for lunch and we finished work at 5pm. Later on we had to option to start at 9am with half an hour for lunch. But we all went home at 5pm.
Working overtime was rare, only around the end of the financial year (30 September, why this date is a completely different story). We were hardly ever behind with tasks, not even when we had meetings or had to work on special extra projects. Putting in extra hours was rare.
I was promoted to the Sales Department with as my main task to turn the increasing amount of computer data into financial, logistic and statistic reports for management and the directors. 6 colleagues again, same standard working hours but they almost never left work at 5pm.
6 or 6.30 even 7pm was more the norm for all of my 'new' colleagues and when you did (dare to) leave at the standard time they almost made you feel guilty (and which got me into trouble with the Sales Director many times, but that again is another story).
Was their work load so heavy it could not be done between 8.30am - 5pm? No, not really.
I learned it was just that they were The Sales Department. And Sales People are very important people. I've always thought every department in the company was equally important but apparently I was wrong. Sales was the most important department of the company according to my colleagues and Sales Director.
And one way of showing this importance was making longer hours than other departments.
But did all those long hours make them more productive? No, not really.
When one or two had a day off or was on holiday the rest didn't make even longer hours to do all their own and their colleagues' tasks (although they did work harder when on 'double' tasks).
Overtime was just the standard, the norm. A mentality, not a necessity - not most of the time.
When I read reports like Richard mentions in his post "Hands up" I always want to know what exactly is measured:
- the hours someone is away from home or
- the hours productively worked?
I agree with Richard's conclusion: working long hours doesn't always produce the most productive hours. His advice on how to tackle this (read here) is spot on.