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Is Your Workaholic Behavior Hurting Your Team? The Answer Is Yes.

Workaholics die younger, get sick more often and are less productive than people with healthy work-life balance.
Is Your Workaholic Behavior Hurting Your Team? The Answer Is Yes.
Image credit: Jasmin Merdan | Getty Images
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Entrepreneur and Connector
5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The life of a founder isn’t easy. Grant Cardone, the self-made millionaire, claimed on CNBC that people who want to make millions of dollars need to work 95 hours per week (around 14 hours per day). Some startup founders reach or even exceed that number, but those who do forget one vital factor: their teams.

Founders might be crazy about their companies, but workers have lives and hobbies outside the office. When startup leaders put in crazy hours, never take vacations or engage in poor self-care, employees see -- and they mirror that behavior.

For young companies, that’s not great news. Workaholics die younger, get sick more often and are less productive than people with healthy work-life balance, according to research compiled by HubSpot. Startup founders might not ask anyone else to put in extra effort, but when words say one thing and actions say another, teams are more likely to listen to the latter.

Fortunately, founders can use this power for good as well as evil. By not only preaching the good life, but living it, startup leaders can keep their teams happy and productive while improving their own lives in the process.

Related: 6 Ways Workaholism Can Make You a Winner in Love

Founders need to slow down.

Caught up in the whirlwind and expectations of startup life, it’s easy for founders to do nothing but work. They might feel like they’re ahead of the competition, but in truth, they’re just sleeping less.

Research published in Harvard Business Review found that managers can’t distinguish between the work of people who grind 80 hours per week and the work of people who only pretend to work that much. Founders might argue they have plenty to do within those hours, which is fair. However, most of that work tends to be less time-sensitive than they claim.

More troubling is the effect a leader’s work schedule has on the people below. Despite all the research in support of better work-life balance, founders continue to grind away as if they can solve all their problems at once. Employees see this behavior and feel they will be viewed as unmotivated if they don't put in extra hours, come to work sick or leave vacation days on the table.

This problem isn’t limited to older generations and their traditional pride in attendance, either. The Toronto Sun covered research that found Millennials to be the worst offenders in unused vacation time. When young employees get into startup environments where their bosses refuse to take breaks, the results are predictably bad.

Founders can change this problem, but to do so, they must rethink the way they run their companies -- both as workers and as leaders. Workaholic behavior hurts your team. Here is how to set a better example for employees:

Follow these tips to help employees achieve better work-life balance.

1. Take the science to heart.

Employees need to see that founder talk about work-life balance is more than lip service. Walk the walk by taking vacations, going home earlier and not sending work emails after dinner.

Ian Brookes of Cake Solutions argues that founders need to learn how to be 100 percent at work in the office and 100 percent off work when it’s time to go home. To do so, he recommends founders set realistic goals for their days and weeks. Brookes also says founders should follow regular morning routines to get ready for the day and not feel pressured to catch up from the moment they arrive.

Related: Workaholism Is the Threat That Masquerades as Dedication

2. Be visible, then invisible.

Employees do what they see, not what they’re told. Be visible in the office so people see the boss in action, then be invisible after hours so people don’t feel pressured to stay available.

Dr. Emma M. Seppälä found that 84 percent of American executives have canceled a vacation to go back to work. Rather than surprise employees with a sudden reappearance (and reinforce the idea that vacations aren’t really vacations), delegate tasks ahead of time. That way, if an emergency does pop up, the people in the office know where to turn.

Related: Advice From a Recovering Workaholic: Make a Shift to 'Less Is More'

3. Set a minimum, not a maximum.

Most companies give their employees a set number of vacation days. Buffer does things a little differently. After reviewing its unlimited vacation policy and realizing that most employees didn’t take much vacation, the company asked its employees to take a minimum of 15 days off in a year. Having effective business operations takes you stepping in at times.

Buffer didn’t just talk the talk, though. Executives were vocal proponents of the change and the biggest users of vacation time during the trial period. Buffer executives took an average of 24.25 days off during the year, which encouraged other employees to follow suit. As a result, Buffer’s average vacation use went from around 15 days per year to 18.2.

None of this means founders shouldn’t work hard to help their companies succeed. However, founders need to realize that more work doesn’t always mean more progress – and the way they treat downtime rubs off on their employees. To build more productive companies, happier workforces and better cultures, founders should ease back a bit and show employees that it’s OK to take it easy now and then.

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