Guest Blog by Jackie Furey, Where We Work
SME’s are facing burnout as more and more find it impossible to switch off- Jackie Furey, Director of the workplace consultancy, Where We Work, explains how overworking is not the answer to building a better business…
Earlier this year, it was revealed that the ‘always on culture’ has spread to Britain’s SME’s, pushing many to what has been described as a ‘breaking point’. The survey revealed that one in five now admit to feeling under pressure all of the time, and 65% said they never switch off.
Now, whilst we all need some pressure to function in the workplace, the incessant stress from not switching off from our work mode, will not only impact negatively on a worker’s productivity, it will also lead to ill heath, poor wellbeing, and even a damaged personal life.
Like many larger organisations, SME workforces are now seeing a huge increase in the blurring of work/life boundaries making it critical for staff and their leaders to re-establish these boundaries. So, what can be done? How do SME’s maintain the pace of a modern working world, without burning themselves out entirely?
Changing perceptions- Less is more
Many businesses are already waking up to the fact that overworking is not a positive thing, and that less is more.
It is a common misconception that overworking will increase your productivity. In actual fact it will reduce it, as well as increase fatigue, be detrimental to your health and above all cause high levels of stress. It is therefore essential that SME leaders rethink their approach and do their upmost to best to develop a working culture that perceives ‘overworking’ negatively and that the ‘always on’ attitude is prohibited from the top down.
Businesses in Sweden recently introduced a six-hour workday, as opposed to eight, to improve productivity and create a happier workforce. Whilst this was initially an experiment at a Toyota plant, it soon became a widely adopted policy across multiple industries throughout the country. This experiment is based on the Parkinson’s Law, which supports the idea that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. This means if you dedicate six hours to complete a task that could be achieved in two, you will inevitably fill the six hours with work, often over complicating the task. However, in order to implement this, workers must understand that there is a time when work stops and defining this line is most challenging when managing a remote workforce.
Working from home
Whilst SME’s have clearly embraced flexible or agile working (it’s estimated that around 66% now have remote workers), this rise has evidently contributed to the collapse of work/life boundaries.
Whilst agile or flexible working can be considered an efficient and productive method of working which aids people in achieving a work/life balance, it can, if practised incorrectly, do the opposite. The reason for this is that many of those working from home have developed a belief they should be expected to be available for work at any given time.
To counter this, rules for homeworkers should be introduced and firmly followed. This could include introducing a cut-off times, restricting when calls can be made, placing curfews on when emails and messages are sent.
Constant notifications that interrupt a person’s time must be eliminated and all the necessary precautions made to allow a focus on recharging. This means that staff should refrain, where possible, from having workplace emails reach them via their own personal technology such as smart phones or tablets in their homes. Resisting the temptation to check emails and being strict with staying disconnected will mean a worker will perform at a higher level at the right time.
Taking holidays should be a break from the stress of responding to any workplace communication. However, The Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM), found that 61% of workers feel obliged to actually work whilst on holiday, and that 18% come back from a break feeling more stressed than when they left. Staff should understand that their time away from work is to recharge and to return rejuvenated and invigorated.
Introducing these rules will of course mean that business leaders must also try and adhere to them as staff will mimic their working behaviour. For example, if staff receive emails from their line-manager at 2.45am, yet they have been told not to send messages after 5.00pm- this gives a mixed message and will result in their boundaries being shifted to match the managers habits.
In summary, overworking to the point that work/life boundaries are lost, must no longer be considered acceptable or met with approval in the workplace. It should instead, be understood as a sign of poor performance that will eventually impact negatively on both the business and the individual.