How a Culture of Long Hours Could be Hurting Your Business

A 2014 Gallup survey found that Americans work an average of 47 hours per week, and 39% of workers work over 50 hours per week. That 9-to-5 schedule Dolly sings about? If you’re lucky, it’s more like 8-to-6 (and if you’re not, it’s more like 6-to-8). For businesses, it sure seems like having employees work more hours would be good for business. That’s more time to sell, more customer support time, more time to build a better business. But growing evidence suggests that working long hours can do more harm than good.

Long Work Days are Bad for Employee Health

One of our pillars at National HR is the belief that a healthy workforce is a productive workforce. The benefit programs we implement start with the question “How can we help make the employees of this organization healthier?” Employees who work long hours show a higher incidence of strokeEmployees who work long hours consume more alcohol than employees with a shorter workday. And employees who work long hours are more prone to injury. The data seem to make intuitive sense: when you work more, you’re more stressed. When you’re tired from too much work, you have a hard time moving and thinking quickly. When you’re stressed, you seek ways to alleviate stress (alcohol). And the cumulative stress year after year leads to medical conditions associated with stress.

Long Work Days are Bad for Productivity

Not only are your long-work-hours workers unhealthy, they’re also unproductive. A recent study of call center workers shows that “as working time increases, output per hour decreases.” Employees are spending more time at their desks, but as the day gets longer, they start to lose focus. And who can blame them? Constant concentration is hard. We as humans just aren’t built to do the same thing for hours on end. At the end of a long work day, you don’t get more productivity, just groggy workers. And that doesn’t only affect today, that affects tomorrow as well.

Long Work Days are Bad for Happiness

So, we’ve established that it’s hard to stay healthy when you work long hours. We’ve established that it’s hard to stay productive when you work long hours. What do you get when you have an unhealthy, overworked, and less-than-productive employee? An unhappy employee. Recent studies correlate long work hours with a decrease in life satisfaction. People aren’t as happy when they work long hours, and this is the secret killer that lies beneath your long-hours culture. Unhappy workers won’t stay with your company. Unhappy workers will pen a poison review on Glassdoor the minute they’ve found a better job. And you’re left with those that aren’t as productive, aren’t as healthy, and aren’t as happy as their cohorts.

What kind of culture do you want?

Believe us, we know how easy it is to fall into the long-hours trap. Business owners are a focused group by nature, and when it’s your vision, your legacy, you don’t let a whole lot get in your way. An ‘hours culture’ is easy to create, easy to justify, and very hard to get out of. You can convince yourself that you “just have to get over the next hump.” But then another hump comes. It’s up to you to realize that you can’t continue to do counterproductive things and justify them because “that’s how we’ve always done it.”

Modern business demands a holistic approach. You have to align the bottom-line and employee happiness. You have to decide how you want people to see your company, and you need to put systems in place that realize that vision. You have to understand that a human isn’t a fruit out of which you squeeze every last bit of productivity. When you do that, you have happier workers. When you do that, you have more productive workers. And happier and more productive workers leads to better business.