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Don't Work Your Employees to the Bone: Minimize Their Stress to Boost Productivity

Don't Work Your Employees to the Bone: Minimize Their Stress to Boost Productivity
Image credit: Muriel de Seze | Getty Images
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Too much work is killing us -- literally. According to a study by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the more hours a person works in a week, the more likely he or she is to be diagnosed with heart disease.

Related: The Truth About Work-Life Balance

In fact, the 10-year study found that of the people researchers followed, those who worked 70 hours a week were 74 percent more likely to develop some form of heart disease than their 45-hour counterparts.

These findings resonated with me. After working 60 hours a week in the medical field, I never thought that running my own business would be as time-consuming. I figured that being my own boss meant I could sleep in and work when I wanted.

I was wrong. I soon realized that the success or failure of my business rested squarely on my shoulders. So, I put in more hours than ever before, working into the night and sometimes realizing that I hadn’t seen the sun in days.

From my years in medicine, I knew this pattern would quickly lead to health problems -- so I decided to change the way my employees and I handled our workdays. By encouraging a balance between getting the job done and maintaining a healthy life outside work, as well as modeling this behavior myself, I’ve crafted an office atmosphere that brings out true productivity without running my team members into the ground. 

Quality over quantity

I engage my team every day, whether by setting an example, being visible or just having a presence. I ask for structure and order in the office only when those things are vital. Small details, such as being a few minutes late or not dressing in business casual gear, don’t bother me as long as the work gets done. Why alienate and chastise someone who isn’t hurting morale and is producing good work -- all for the sake of an arbitrary structure?

Work done well is what matters. When the work isn’t done and someone is abusing the culture, I take notice. Yet, in the last five years, there has been only one instance where I had to terminate an employee for abusing the flexibility I provide.

People generally want to do good work, and they do it better when they don’t have to worry about checking off a list of things to do, to maintain appearances. Here are the four strategies I use to reduce stress and maintain health while still ensuring that production remains at desired levels.

Related: Community Is the Best Company Culture

1. Be a companion to your company. 

With 53 percent of workers worldwide feeling more stressed and burned out than they were at the start of the 2010s, it’s more important than ever to help your team discover and maintain the right balance. Take your cues from Bitly CEO Mark Josephson, who holds weekly “Cocktails and Dreams” meetings.

At these meetings, a different employee acts as bartender each week while Josephson talks more casually with his team about wins and losses, both within and outside of the company.

Do the same: Regularly discuss life outside of work with your employees, and express interest in what they have to say on a human level -- not on a level that reminds them who’s boss. Don’t risk losing a rock star employee because you burned him or her out with nothing but shop talk every day.

2. Maintain realistic expectations. 

Asking your team to put in extra time to get the job done doesn’t help as much as you’d think. In fact, recent studies show that, once an employee crosses the 50-hour mark in a week, his or her output drops so drastically that it’s basically worthless.

OpenView Venture Partners addressses this problem head-on. At the company, work times are strictly enforced; employees are actually asked by management to leave the office early once they close in on the threshold of productivity.

Remember: Sometimes, what seemed reasonable before starting a project becomes clearly unfeasible a few days in. So, don’t stick to a deadline that doesn’t make sense if it’s making your employees pull out their hair and lose sleep. Research how long a task will take before assigning a due date, so you don’t have to adjust plans unnecessarily.

3. Encourage healthy practices among employees. 

It’s easy to forget that compensation at work is more than just a paycheck. In a 2016 survey by Glassdoor, 57 percent of employees surveyed cited outside benefits such as insurance and paid vacation time as top considerations for taking on new positions.

Regular checkups, eye exams and dental care are just as vital to your company’s health as they are to the health of the employees themselves. Someone who feels sick all the time or ignores an illness will not be as productive as someone who's happy and healthy. Make sure your team members know that they’re free to take advantage of the full extent of their benefits.

4. If you promote balance, seek it yourself. 

If you're your company's leader, people will pay more attention to your actions than your words. So, if you tell your employees to stop stressing and use their insurance (but you yourself never take a day off and generally come across as a nervous wreck), you won’t get the low-stress environment you want.

Take time now and then to grab a midday workout or cut a day short if you’ve done what you need to do, and go take care of you. Employees will notice and do likewise.

Related: Unhappy Employees Are Costing You: 4 Lessons From Denmark

With today’s technology, we have the opportunity to work any time from any place, but leaving the office -- really leaving the office -- makes the work we do when we’re engaged that much better. Our bodies are candles, and our minds are the wicks.

Put out the flame from time to time, and give your body the rest it deserves.