Thursday, February 11, 2016

Logging Long Hours? You May be Counterproductive

Article published on May 26, 2015 for Ignites
By Clare Trapasso

Being the first one into the office and last to leave may seem like a ticket to promotions and pay bumps. But working around the clock has been proven to actually set workers back, say productivity coaches and researchers.

Fund shops including Janus and Nationwide Financial encourage staff to work smarter instead of needlessly burning the midnight oil and or take simple steps to manage their daily schedules to keep their energy levels high.

“It’s a very powerful myth that the longer you sit and work, the more productive you’re going to be,” says Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time. But “if you chronically overwork, you become burned out. You no longer have the energy to work effectively, efficiently or productively.”

Workers and companies should focus on performance, rather than hours clocked, and staffers should build in short breaks every 90 minutes or so to refresh.

Often, it’s the senior leaders who intentionally — or unintentionally — set the hours of the office, says Jen Shirkani, CEO of Penumbra Group, a Bedford, N.H.-based leadership development consultant specializing in financial firms.

“When they put in extraordinary hours or work under extraordinary circumstances, it sends the message to everyone else that that’s the expectation,” she says. They need to be aware of the work ethic they are modeling, she says, so they can communicate to their teams that they don’t need to stay quite so late.

A poll of Ignites readers last spring showed that fund workers routinely expect to work at least 50 hours. More than 780 Ignites readers participated in the poll, which followed a Wall Street Journal article depicting a grueling culture at Pimco, where 12-hour workdays were the norm.

Nearly 30% of Ignites poll respondents said they typically work between 50 and 60 hours and another 7% said they logged up to 70 hours a week.

“The work ethic is alive and well in America,” says John Evans Jr., executive director of Janus Labs, part of the Denver, Colo.-based Janus Capital Group. “But perhaps it’s gotten a wee bit out of balance.”

He recommends that workers conduct their own energy audits to measure its quantity, quality, focus and force throughout the day.

Meetings with clients should be scheduled for times when energy is highest.

Workers who maintain exhaustive schedules can face health problems, says Alexandra Michel, a business professor at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. Michel tracked four cohorts of U.S. investment bankers at two U.S. banks over 13 years.

At first, those who worked 80- to 120-hour workweeks were highly productive. But after about four years, they began to physically break down, developing insomnia, chronic pain, depression, anxiety and sleeplessness. Their ability to think creatively suffered and it took longer to complete tasks. Around year seven, many burned out.

One factor keeping workers from hitting the off switch is open-office layouts, where colleagues can see who is planted firmly in front of their computer screens late into the night, she says. This causes peer pressure not to be the first to leave.

Even if firms mandated no work on weekends, many overachievers would do it anyway in secret, she found.

The problem is that employers still tend to favor the workers who are always on the clock, says John Pencavel, an economics professor at Stanford University, who researches productivity.
But after about 50+ hours of work a week, productivity and output can decline as stress and fatigue set in.

“A point is reached where it’s not in the interest of the employer” for workers to keep toiling away, Pencavel says.

Nationwide Financial encourages associates to participate in online and in-person workshops that cover time and energy management, says Ron Ransom, VP of business performance excellence.

The Columbus, Ohio-based firm also encourages managers to ensure that less than half of workers’ days is spent in meetings.

“It’s important to work hard, but work smart,” he says. “Know what’s expected of you. Know what’s needed to accomplish the goals.”

Workers need to set boundaries of when they will work and when they won’t, says Joe Robinson, a stress management and productivity trainer at Optimal Performance Strategies in Santa Monica, Calif. They should communicate those times to clients and managers, and then they need to power off their laptops, smart phones and tablets.

He recommends that professionals designate only a few times a day to check e-mail, let others know when they’re can’t be disturbed and distinguish between real emergencies and issues that can wait until the following morning.

And if workers don’t set these boundaries for themselves, he recommends that managers do it for them.

Workers should also assess whether working long hours might signal inefficiency, says Penumbra’s Shirkani.

“People [may] think you’re not capable of doing your job in 40 hours a week, so you have to put in the extra hours,” she says. “If I’m looking at you to promote you, I might say to myself, ‘You can’t even handle the job you have now. How could I give you more responsibility?’”

Clare Trapasso is a print and multimedia journalist at the New York Daily News with experience writing breaking news and feature stories in urban and rural communities.

As a general assignment reporter on the Daily News’ Queens Bureau and Metro Desk, she covers everything from schools being closed, to naked bike rides, to grisly murders, local politics and everything in-between.

Prior to that, she was an Associated Press reporter in the wire service’s New Hampshire Bureau. During the six-month assignment, she covered state and national news and put together several multimedia projects. She also edited stories and wrote broadcast news.

She became passionate about journalism at the State University of New York at Purchase College, where she graduated with a B.A. in journalism in 2002. In her senior year, she created a campus women's newspaper called The Cycle.

After receiving her undergraduate degree, she joined the Peace Corps. She was sent to Independent Samoa in the South Pacific, where she learned Samoan and taught college-level journalism classes in the capitol.

When she returned to America, she began graduate school. In 2007, she earned a M.A. in Journalism from New York University. As a student, she interned for the Daily News and The Village Voice. After graduation, she did an internship in the Associated Press New York City Bureau.

Clare Trapasso is interested in writing stories that can effect change. She can be contacted at

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