People who work long hours get a lot done – but is this approach really always effective, i.e. does it produce the desired effect? My theory is that this is only the case if you assign the same high level of importance to rest and recuperation as you do to your work and strike the right balance between them. Top athletes have a head start over the business world in this respect: They know that they have to incorporate enough rest time into their schedules in order to achieve their best possible performance.
To gather information for a speech I am writing, I am currently conducting a survey among the CEOs of the around 100 most important Swiss companies in which I ask them about their personal health and the importance that is assigned to health within their organization. One question in the survey focuses on the amount of time that our top managers spend working each week. Most of the CEOs responded that they work 60-70 hours per week. It is obvious that they have a vast workload that requires them to work such long hours. Clients, employees and many other stakeholders are all demanding their attention. But the decisive question in this context is: Does the enormous amount of time they spend working actually deliver results? Is it really effective?
Working (too) much is ineffective
The scientific view on this matter is clear: If an individual works more than 55 hours per week, his or her productivity declines. To put it simply: If you work 50 hours a week, you accomplish more than in 70 hours of work. That is because longer hours lead to a decline in concentration and consequently to more errors. That is not the only thing: People who regularly work 11 hours a day are 2.5 times more likely to suffer from depression. Other negative effects of overwork include sleep disorders, digestive disorders, back pain, etc. These health issues can, in turn, further reduce our ability to perform well.
When talking about our ability to perform, I like to draw an analogy to elite sports, since today’s professional world functions much in the same way: Employees are expected to constantly deliver a top performance and are under immense pressure. However, top athletes have a head start over the business world. They do all they can to succeed but are, at the same time, aware that they can only achieve a top performance if their body is always able to recover afterwards. This is because muscle growth occurs during rest and recovery phases. If top athletes train excessively, their ability to perform well actually declines or they become more susceptible to injury.
“Prone to injury”
The same principle applies to the business world: We all need time to recover in the evenings after work, at weekends or during vacations if we are to continue to perform well. If we fail to do so, we become run down and can no longer function properly. The result is that we become more ‘prone to injury’ in the sense of being more susceptible to illness – resulting in absences from work – or more at risk of suffering a burnout. I have already written two entries on my blog about a very important part of the puzzle when it comes to ensuring our recovery and regeneration – sleep:
http://www.stressandbalance.ch/en/2016/04/01/drunk-from-sleep-deprivation/ and http://www.stressandbalance.ch/en/2016/04/22/for-a-good-sound-sleep/. In the US, the costs of lower productivity due to sleep deprivation are estimated to be around USD 63 billion. It is no surprise that VIPs like Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet, Sheryl Sandberg and Bill Gates swear by the cleansing power of getting enough sleep.
Ensuring that you get enough restful sleep is vital in order to recharge your batteries and maintain your ability to perform well. It is also important to take short breaks during the day. According to expert advice, we should take a break for several minutes once every hour or hour and a half. This is not always easy during hectic days at work that are punctuated with numerous meetings. However, you should try to simply take a few deep breaths once every hour or think of something pleasant – whether it is a person you care about, a great experience while on holiday, a place where you feel empowered or something else that inspires you. That is all it takes to allow your nervous system to reset itself and recuperate. Alternatively, take a look at the website: http://www.donothingfor2minutes.com/ Enjoy watching a sunset and think about what it tells you.
© Claudia Kraaz