Despite huge changes in the nature of work and the workplace over the past couple of decades, we still tend to think of a 40-hour week as the norm. And if you employ non-exempt workers, you need to pay strict attention to that figure, because any work beyond it entails costly overtime.
But do you really know how long your people are working each week — especially if most of them are salaried and exempt, and therefore not subject to overtime laws?
If you don’t — and we’re betting a lot of you don’t — you might want to contemplate the results of Gallup’s most recent survey on the topic, from 2014. Gallup spoke with 1,271 adults who are employed full time, and found that, on average, they reported working 46.7 hours per week. That’s nearly a full day of work beyond the classic eight-hour, five-day week. And when it came to salaried employees, the trend toward a longer workweek was even more pronounced: These folks reported putting in 49 hours, on average.
Stopwatch not required
Now, we’re not saying that you should put a stopwatch on employees — especially nonexempt ones — and force them to stop working when they reach 40 hours in a given week. Part of employee engagement is the furnishing of discretionary effort, and one expression of that effort may be staying behind until 8 p.m. some days to make sure important work is done right and on time.
What we are saying is that you should have some idea of how long your people are working each week, and you should consider the implications. For instance, are your people among the 25% of salaried employees that Gallup found are working 60 hours and more each week? Or the further 25% who are working between 50 and 60 hours?
Such effort, extended over months or years, can be grueling and depleting. Employees who are worn out — physically and/or mentally — aren’t likely to be the kind of engaged employees you want.
Ask the question
So you might start by surveying your people to see how long they work each week — and also when they work. Even if you’re OK with people doing 50 hours, say, you might not be happy to know that they’re still beavering away on their laptops from home at 1 p.m., at least not on a regular basis.
Then consider whether your policies and practices encourage a healthy balance between work and non-work life — the kind of balance that enables you to get the best from employees but also allows them to refresh themselves so they can to do their best work over an extended period and not “burn out.”
Bottom line: You never want to discourage good people from giving that extra effort. But you always want to remember that there’s a next month and next year, and too many long, hard weeks may ruin them for a future when you are still going to need them.
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