False Assumptions That Perpetuate the Overtime Epidemic in Startups
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Entrepreneurs are naturally hard workers. It’s what makes them successful in the first place. But founders have a tendency to overextend themselves, and when they model this behavior for their employees, they create a perfect storm of stress and burnout among their team.
I remember working overtime and weekends for one job. I had less time with my husband and was under so much pressure that I developed a stress rash. I didn’t know how to tell my manager that I just needed more rest. The entire staff was overworked, and turnover was high, which eventually affected the bottom line.
Later I worked for a nonprofit that helped me learn the importance of work-life balance. My boss offered me flexible hours during my pregnancy and after my son's birth so I could put my newborn's needs first. The dedication I felt led me to aim to produce work of the highest quality.
These experiences taught me that helping staffers balance their personal and professional lives creates an environment of trust, accountability and productivity. But to overcome the mind-set that entrepreneurial success demands huge personal sacrifice, identify the pervasive assumptions that fuel this epidemic.
Assumption No. 1: Working more hours translates to higher productivity. Productivity is critical for a startup because it means the business is running efficiently and ensures a healthy bottom line.
Most people put in extra hours because they think it will help the business succeed. Working longer hours actually makes employees less productive, though. According to a study conducted by the International Labour Office, a 10 percent rise in overtime resulted in a 2.4 percent dip in productivity.
There are also severe long-term consequences to long hours. According to University of California at Irvine's Dr. Dean Baker, working too many hours can pose significant health risks such as hypertension, psychological and behavioral problems, cardiovascular disease and fatigue. And by itself, fatigue lowers motivation, increases absenteeism and decreases organizational efficiency.
Assumption No. 2: Managers like employees who work longer hours. Many employees think their managers value people who work longer hours, so they put in more time than necessary to gain approval. Leaders care most about results, however, and value employees who are productive, dependable and a positive influence on the organization. It’s important for leaders to communicate to their employees that the most important things are productivity and work-life balance.
Accommodating employees’ specific needs and encouraging healthy work and home lives will show them the executive cares and inspire passion in their work. Try these tips for helping employees achieve that balance:
1. Communicate openly. Employees aren’t mind readers. It’s important that entrepreneurs tell their staffers to have a life outside of work and show a willingness to help them achieve balance.
2. Help employees set priorities. Hold biannual performance review meetings with employees to help them establish their goals and make a list of priorities for home and work. Group these priorities by time sensitivity and importance.
3. Establish boundaries. Clear delineations between work and home life lets employees succeed at work without encroaching on their personal lives. My company grants flexible schedules in the summer to enable employees to care for out-of-school kids or enjoy the sunshine by working, say, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
4. Create a positive work environment. Having a pleasant work environment that offers peace and positive energy will go a long way toward keeping a team focused and productive. My company has potlucks in the office every month, weekly yoga sessions and lots of family-centric events to create a “home away from home” feel.
5. Work normal hours. When employees want to know what’s expected of them, they look to their leaders for an example. If employees see their managers working extra hours, staffers might think they should, too.
It can be difficult for an “all in” entrepreneur to encourage a work-life balance, but helping employees get more out of life enables the leader to get more out of the staff. Show team members that the company values the things that matter to them, and they’ll bend over backward to make the business a success.