Rue the ‘Work Flu’

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:36 pm

What is the pace at your workplace? Early in 2006, I heard some sad news. Leaders of a country in South America decided to do away with siesta time. Business firms were abolishing the age-old custom of closing for a couple hours in the afternoon.

No more leisurely lunch followed by a nice nap. "Oh no!" I thought. Siesta always seemed a civilized bow to the body’s natural rhythm, and now our hectic American pace was spreading southward.

I remember a ski trip to Austria when the European skiers staying at my hotel were shocked that I was there only for one week. "We have a month winter holiday – and a month summer holiday! How can you come here for just a week?"

We’ve all heard rumblings that globalization is taking a toll on that two-month holiday custom as well.

How many years ago were we hearing how the work week would soon shrink to 30 or 35 hours? Whatever happened to those predictions? The demands of a "good" job have been spiraling upward, and the spiral is fueled even more by all the technical advances. We can work anywhere!

Many of my clients are desperately trying to claim some hours in the week for a life of their own.

"I need some balance," they will say. "I don’t have time for my spouse and kids, not to even mention friends!" "Playing the piano is my therapy, and I haven’t touched the thing in two years!" "I never feel relaxed any more!" And so on.

Many of my clients are getting ready to file taxes on impressive incomes for 2005. Some of them hired me to walk with them through drastic lifestyle changes that will accompany a big increase in personal time – as well as a drop in income. They want to retrieve those late nights spent at the office. They want to have whole weekends to kick back with their families. They have decided that the big money isn’t worth working 70-plus hours per week.

They are in the minority. The pace of work life throughout the world is getting crazier all the time. I love the United States and want to live nowhere else (well … sometimes those islands in the Caribbean draw me).

Still, I am alarmed at how fast our pace of work is being imitated in so many other countries. I don’t believe this harried pace increases productivity. I don’t think it is the secret to economic growth. I don’t think it is healthy.

Any one of us can rev up our engines and perform at near super-human capacity for short stints. It can even be fun, especially with a bunch of dedicated team members. But then, ta-da, it’s over. We clap each other on the back, laugh a lot and rest on our laurels.

You may be the leader of an organization where 10- to 12-hour days are the norm. You may get into the office at 6:30 every morning, eat lunch at your desk and be the last to leave every evening. As I said above, there are times when we feel we must do exactly that for a short stint. But if it is de rigueur at your place, you might want to step back and evaluate the impact.

If the leader’s pace of life is that unbalanced, the senior managers will probably be afraid to work a sane schedule of eight or nine-hour days. Their reports can be driven by the same fear – not wanting to ‘stand out’ by leaving at a respectable hour.

Before you know it, everyone is overworked, tired, resentful and dealing with a lot of anger on the home front besides. It’s hard for me to believe this leads to higher performance!

The ferocious work flu is contagious though, and more dangerous than the Avian variety.

You have the opportunity to be a very welcome variety of whistle-blower. You may blow the whistle to stop the craziness. You may analyze the system and work with your associates to discover how you can keep productivity level or even raise it by providing for more space in the lives of everyone in the organization.

Imagine a business full of refreshed bodies and minds! Creativity will flow freely. Word will get around that you have an operation that is respectful of the many dimensions of employees’ lives.

Someone may study your company as a model of healthy business practices. (I really wish some doctoral students would do research on the relationship between time spent at the office and personal performance.)

We each have a pace at which we feel the most natural and are the most alert and productive. Check out yours and give yourself the gift of spending more of your time at that pace. You may discover a whole new world!

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