Long hours vs productive hours at work: Who wins?

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Does the length of time spent in office determine level of hard work? Has working beyond office hours become the norm?

Does a person spending more than the regular nine to ten hours at work, automatically qualify for the star performer award? Is a person putting in sincere, regular hours being chastised for not going the extra mile? These are questions that have long been debated.

An online video which is being widely shared and discussed these days speaks of this exact issue. A young executive who has wrapped up his day at 6:30 p.m. faces a wise guy of a colleague who thinks it is another ‘half-day’ for the executive. Mr. Wise guy is clearly not amused when he is reminded of the numerous breaks he takes at work that have led to his day extending beyond the regular hours. He is tongue-tied on being made to realise that it is not fair of him to come across as the hard worker, while the one who has actually worked sincerely and used his time productively is being picked on.

Time and again, we have complained that there is a world beyond the office that needs our attention too. We have been married to our work such that we often forget to pay attention to that part of our lives – whether it is time spent with family or friends, or time for leisure, hobbies, and so on. There are numerous questions that arise here. Are we becoming absolute workaholics with nothing but our day jobs mattering to us? Are we missing out on life as we spend more and more time at our office desks? Are we encouraging slacking at work by rewarding time instead of output?

The viral video has met with obvious approval from those who do believe how ‘work–life balance’ has gone for a toss in the current times, and of course, there probably never will exist a fair workplace.

However, what really needs to be discussed is whether these are really times when we absolutely cannot ‘switch off’ from work. When HRKatha approached some senior HR professionals and organisation leaders with this very question, a mixed set of responses was received.

While it is true that your job cannot dictate your life, it is also important to be practical and understand the nature of work these days.

Plan your day right
Devraj Sanyal is a busy man. As the managing director and chief executive officer of Universal Music Group (India and South Asia) and EMI Music (India and South Asia), he packs a tight schedule almost all the time. Having said that, working beyond the regular hours is not something he believes in for himself or for his colleagues. Planning the day right is his mantra.

‘With proper planning, all efficient employees should finish their workload in the given 10-6. On some days, the workload is higher and you may have to put in extra hours, but that can never be the norm. Spending an extra minute in office beyond your designated hours is just bad office culture,’ says Sanyal.

‘Great work culture comes from leadership. If the CEOs encourage their teams to finish on time, that’s the culture of the organisation. I am guilty of doing more than my eight hours several times a week, but I never spend a single minute more than I have to at work if it’s not actually important work being discussed. And that’s valid for weekends too. I am a huge disbeliever in people coming in on Saturdays to work when they could very easily just organise themselves better and use the week to finish the work,’ he adds.

Adil Malia

Indian managers rarely delegate and end up doing the non-productive work of subordinates and hence, naturally have to work till late. They feel very secure to know that people are still around them, when they may need. Thus, they value the loyalist late worker. Do not make the blunder of assuming that a guy has automatically packed in more quality output in the day, simply because he stays back.

Recognise and reward the right resource
What cannot be denied is that most of us are guilty of taking our work hours for granted, something that is essayed in the video too. There are numerous breaks to be taken – tea, smoke, lunch, and so on. If there are only eight hours to spend in a day at work, are we sure we are spending those hours efficiently?

HR veteran Adil Malia explains how organisations should value leadership and meaningful contributions. He is strictly against the practice of looking at those who spend some extra hours at work as the more hardworking resources.

‘If in the process on some occasions, more time engagement is expected, so be it. What is erroneous is the desire to use that as a measure or metric of performance. Though I have been a late worker myself, I do know a lot of people who have wasted time, taken multiple breaks, gossiped, indulged in time wasters and thus found membership into the loyal categories by default,’ he says.

According to Malia, it is common to find senior leaders working late in India and Asian countries. He thinks Indian managers rarely delegate and end up doing the non-productive work of subordinates and hence, naturally have to work till late.

‘Such incompetent professionals cannot be allowed to claim premium on their inefficiency,’ he remarks.

‘They feel very secure to know that people are still around them, when they may need. Thus, they value the loyalist late worker. Do not make the blunder of assuming that a guy has automatically packed in more quality output in the day, simply because he stays back,’ Malia says.

Sanyal also admits that he isn’t impressed by late workers.

‘I can tell you with great confidence that people who spend extra hours at work have the opposite effect on me. I consider them disorganised rather than hardworking. Sometimes you genuinely need to put in a few extra hours a few times a week and that’s fine as we know exactly what the workload is but that is by design and not default,’ he says.

Josy Paul

Most advertisers and marketers are operating in highly-competitive market environments. Because of this, their demands from their communication partners are becoming aggressive. This, in turn, puts pressure on the partners because everything is urgent and wanted overnight. I think ‘wanted overnight’ is the new deadly virus that’s affecting work–life balance.

Let’s be practical though
It is easy to claim that working and planning right will get you by, but sometimes—due to strict deadlines, unreasonable clients and several other reasons—you cannot help but work extra hours.

A senior HR professional in a private Indian bank thinks the content of the video while making some valid points is very exaggerated in the current times. While he too agrees that it is not time but actual work that must be rewarded, he points out that the world of work today is different, and we work in industries where you cannot just say you will work for only a fixed number of hours.

‘A nine to five job can only exist in clerical roles. Most of our growth is coming from customer-facing industries today. If a client demands something at a certain time, you cannot say no. You refuse and your client will find somebody else who won’t. You have to be practical,’ he says.

The advertising industry is probably one where you’ll see this most prevalent. ‘Aaj night hai office mein’ is not something very uncommon that you’ll hear.

Advertising veteran and BBDO India chairman and chief creative officer, Josy Paul, has a few thoughts to share on this. While he too believes that one shouldn’t be working beyond the eight to nine hours in an office, he admits that there are demands you cannot ignore.

‘Most advertisers and marketers are operating in highly-competitive market environments. Because of this, their demands from their communication partners are becoming aggressive. This, in turn, puts pressure on the partners because everything is urgent and wanted overnight. I think ‘wanted overnight’ is the new deadly virus that’s affecting work–life balance,’ Paul says.

Another interesting point is brought to light by the HR professional when he explains how sometimes those ‘breaks’ that are so looked down upon are actually essential.

‘Ultimately, a lot of work happens outside the meeting rooms. It happens over a tea or a smoke break, over a coffee or a drink; it happens while building relationships. If you are not investing time in building bonds with colleagues from other teams and departments, eventually work will suffer,’ he says.

What he also points out is that rarely are we so immersed in work that we do not think of anything else. Most of us take time out to attend personal phone calls, spend some time on social media, and even bank or shop online during work hours. And organisations today are more than accommodating, provided you deliver what is required of you.

Devraj Sanyal 

With proper planning, all efficient employees should finish their workload in the given 10-6. On some days, the workload is higher and you may have to put in extra hours, but that can never be the norm. Spending an extra minute in office beyond your designated hours is just bad office culture.

That elusive work–life balance
Much has been discussed about the concept of ‘work–life balance’ and the lack of it. With some discipline and a little compromise, it will not be that elusive after all. Sure, there will be times when you will be working late but it is essential that the world outside the office gets ample attention when it calls. Your employer understands that too.

For Sanyal, work–life balance is most critical on his HR mandate as he firmly believes that only fully happy and well-rested staff make for productive employees.

‘Nothing is more important to me than the mental and physical well-being of my people. It’s also very important for my people to have alternate interests, which they are encouraged to pursue—whether dance, working out, hiking, reading or even studying to get an additional degree,’ he says.

The merits and demerits of being married to your jobs, being workaholics and spending more than the normal hours at work, have been and will be debated for a while. An occasional video, such as the one that has gone viral right now, will provoke and provide food for thought.

What is critical is that an employee avoids the pitfalls of shirking work and an employer recognises the effort over time spent.

In the words of Malia, “He who contributes better value should be valued as a better employee. Let the companies actually wake up and smell the coffee. They need to acknowledge the concept of recognising value-creating contributions instead of the classical ancient ‘check-in and check-out’ punctuality parameters.”

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