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Why 'We Need To Work Longer' Is Almost Always A Bad Idea

Every now and then, your boss might say something like, “We need to work longer”. It’s almost always terrible idea.

Stick figures by Leremy (Shutterstock).

First of all, people may actually need to change something about their work, and so the motivation and the goal of the manager might be valid and important.

However, an emphasis on people working longer rarely achieves the intended goal. Why? Because the real goal is not that people work longer — but your boss doesn’t necessarily know this. We’ll see why in a moment.

If you’re telling people you want them to work longer, what are you really telling them? You are telling them this:

“Look, you’re working about eight hours per day now, but I want you to work nine, 10 or 11 hours, because we need to become better. So, I’m asking you to work three hours more, which means I want you to do around 30 per cent more work, which means I want us as a company to become around 30 per cent better.”

30 per cent? Really? That’s the amount of how much you want us to do better? And all we have to do is stay longer and that’s it?

Let’s face it, doing about 30 per cent better isn’t going to get you anywhere significant. And I’m not even talking about why working 30 per cent longer of course won’t improve anything significant in your company by 30 per cent — much has been written about this already.

Here is what I propose: Rather than ask people to work longer hours, tell your people that you want them to become 300 per cent better at what they do! That you want the whole company to become 300 per cent better than it is right now. And don’t even mention working longer.

Because if you tell people this, everybody is going to understand that this goal won’t be achieved by working 300 per cent longer, because eight (hours a day) x 300 per cent is 24 hours, and for obvious reasons, working 24 hours a day is not going to work out.

You should probably even go this far as to tell your people you want them to achieve the 300 per cent goal by actually working normal 8 hour workdays — as a new, strict rule! Now this is an interesting challenge for intelligent people, isn’t it?

Because then they are forced to contemplate how well they will need to work, and not how much they will need to work, because that is going to be the only way to achieve the goal.

At the end of the day, what you want is people to change, or their work to change, and that is the hardest thing of all. Maybe the only thing people hate more than change is being criticised — which is why it isn’t such a good idea to start this process by asking for longer hours, a proposition filled with negative connotations.

Why does asking people to work longer have a negative connotation? Because it sounds like a punishment. It sounds like “we haven’t been doing well, and as a result, we need to stay longer”. Well, at least in Germany, “staying longer” is exactly the kind of punishment we all have actually been raised with in school (it is called “Nachsitzen”).

Here is another point of view: What you actually want is people to become worthier for your company, that they create more value, right? Well, it seems obvious to me that some people in companies seem to already have partly achieved this goal, because they get paid a lot more than others. Which basically means that they create more value for the company (which is or at least should be the only valid reason they get paid more, right)?

So, let’s say you have some juniors and some seniors in your company, and the seniors get paid twice the money compared to the juniors.

How did the seniors get there? Was it something like this?

  • As a junior, they worked five hours.
  • As a regular, they worked seven hours.
  • As a senior, they now work 10 hours.

I think we can all agree that this is not how this kind of stuff works.

But then what’s happening here? Why is it OK to pay them more? The answer, of course: Those people don’t work longer; they work better. So, if this is what enables people to create more value for the company, then why would you want to put the focus on working longer?

The conclusion: Don’t ask people to work longer. Instead, think really hard about how to create an environment which allows people to work a lot better than they do today, and put a lot of effort into implementing this environment.

This of course is a lot harder than just asking them to work longer — but this is a very good sign that it is going to achieve you a lot more.

“We Need to Work Longer” — Why This is Not What You Want to Say [Manuel Kiessling]

Manuel Kessling is the author of The Node Beginner and is the CTO of MyHammer. You can follow him on Twitter as @manuelkiessling.