Book review: Content Rich by Jon Wuebben
Sustainable tactics 2

Working long hours: necessity or mentality?

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.

Fietswerk 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.

Until....
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.

Overwerk6 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.

Comments

Shuaib

Hi Karin

Thanks for elaborating on Richard's post and explaining that the normally the Sales dept is the culprit (or the victim?) of this 'overworked and enslaved' scam!

From my little experience, I can now see that that is/was indeed the case where I work / have worked.

However, does anyone have a logical comprehensive explanation as to why this is the case (it can't just be that they want to show a higher importance to everyone else, can it??) ?

Thanks

Shuaib

Karin H.

Hi Shuaib

A logic explanation? I don't know if it is logic, but feeling important - more important than others - was indeed the culprit that caused the mentality of working longer hours in that particular department of the particular company. I think it started with the Sales Director who subsequently hired staff that portrait the same 'talent'? and the Sales Department mentality was born ;-)

A funny result of it all (I saw it as funny, my colleagues absolutely didn't!) was that because of the Sales attitude (we're better than you) in times of trouble where cooperation between departments would solve problems fairly quickly other departments kind of shrugged their shoulders.
"So what if your client wants it tomorrow and you promised he would get it then. It's not ready yet."
"So what if your client will pay his bill after the next shipment and you promised that would be alright. His account is now more than 60 days overdue so if he wants his next shipment he has to pay today."

All simple examples of little problems that with working together and having the company's priorities right would have been solved in mutual agreement and understanding. And without 'aggravating' the clients or colleagues in all departments.

That's why I totally agree with Richard's conclusion and advice in this matter.

Oops, comments almost turn into blog posts again ;-)

Karin H.

Kent Blumberg

Long hours don't just show up in large organizations. Many of my entrepreneurs and small business owners work far too many hours for their own good. Sometimes it's for the same reason - "I'm the important owner. Therefore I must work long hours." Not always - it's tough to afford enough staff to adequately cover a growing company's needs, for example. But often the owner works the hours to make himself feel indispensable.

Karin H

Hi Kent! Long time no see - working long hours no doubt ;-)

You bring in a good point: when to get more staff to reduce your own hours.
I think a business owner should first think of ways to delegate tasks to other (small) businesses on ad-hoc or temporary bases before the costs of hiring new employees takes over.
We all are experts in something - well, I hope most small businesses are - and working together with other expert businesses can create a tremendous profitable, time and money saving team. On any subject.

Karin H.

The comments to this entry are closed.