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Everybody wants a crew of hard-working employees, people who come in every day focused and ready to tackle whatever is thrown at them.
However, there’s a thin line between productivity and burnout. And that line gets crossed when employees believe that they have to work longer hours. So they keep going, even after the business day is over.
This is more common than most realize. The 2015 State of Enterprise Work report from Workfront looked at the working hours of more than 600 employees. Surprisingly, the No. 1 reason (52 percent) employees said they worked longer hours wasn’t to catch up on tasks, but to get ahead.
Why do employees feel this need to work longer hours unnecessarily? Do they think that that’s what’s expected of them? Or are they trying to avoid getting buried by work?
Perhaps a better question is: Why are managers allowing this?
Great managers should create an environment where employees feel appreciated for the work they do, rather than believe they need to do more and more. While the latter scenario, on the surface, may seem like a great thing, it leads to exhausted and frustrated employees.
Here’s how managers can create an environment where employees don’t feel the need to overwork themselves:
Related: Make Your Waking Hours Work for You
1. Employ transparent ways to track progress.
The truth of the matter is that most employees don’t even know what’s expected of them at work. In a 2015 Gallup survey of 2.2 million employees, 50 percent of respondents weren’t entirely clear about what exactly they needed to accomplish in their role.
When there’s that amount of uncertainty, it’s understandable that employees will begin to guess at what’s “enough.” Unsure if they’ve done all that’s expected, employees will begin to tack on the only thing they can accurately measure: extra hours.
Managers who set clear goals for employees, however, give their team “mile markers” to work toward each day. Have a discussion with your employees about what’s expected and how progress will be tracked.
That way, they’ll know if the quality of their work is where it needs to be, or if a few extra hours of work is actually necessary.
2. Get feedback on a reasonable workload.
Managers aren’t always as in-tune with the day-to-day tasks of their teams as they should be. Since they aren’t the ones doing employees’ jobs, they may find it hard to accurately estimate what a fair time line looks like. Yet, while asking employees for feedback about their workload may look like a simple solution to this problem, few managers actually do that.
So, have regular check-ins about how long tasks are taking and why, in order to better understand what to expect from your employees. Ask about the pain points they face and what may be slowing them down.
If possible, make suggestions to help them work more efficiently. But, if that’s not possible, adjust deadlines and expectations to be more reasonable.
3. Recognize even small achievements.
Imagine an employee who comes into work everyday and does his or her job, but no one ever acknowledges that hard work. Wanting to be appreciated, the employee then begins to start working longer and longer hours in hopes of getting recognition.
Exhausted when that acknowledgement finally occurs, the employee feels that the effort wasn’t worth it.
That’s what happens when managers fail to regularly recognize employees’ accomplishments. And there’s really no excuse here, especially given the many easy-to-use tools available.
One such tool is Hoopla, which allows managers to celebrate even the smallest achievement. When employees reach their goals, they are rewarded, and their success is shared with the entire team. Instead of feeling that they need to work themselves to death to get noticed, employees are motivated by managers’ encouragement.
4. Discourage work martyrdom.
In recent years, a new phenomenon has been occurring: work martyrdom. These are employees who give up their vacation and personal time to work because they believe that that makes them indispensable.
According to a January-February 2016 GfK survey of 5,641 American workers, fully 39 percent wanted to be seen by their boss as a work martyr — and that shouldn’t be.
Put a stop to this trend by encouraging — even praising — employees for prioritizing their work/life balance. Being overworked isn’t what makes an employee great. Remind the team of that. If they see they’re still respected and valued as an employee when they work normal hours, they’ll feel less pressure to engage in an overlong workday.
5. Set a good example.
It’s one of the basics of business leadership: Lead by example. If employees see their manager working late every day, they’ll be more likely to do so, as well. Being a manager signals to employees that the company values that person and his or her work ethic.
If employees want to earn a managerial position, they’ll assume that that’s what’s expected.
Instead, take breaks. Work reasonable hours. Go on vacation. Just as there’s nothing good to be found in overworked employees, the same is true for managers.
There’s no need for employees to believe they have to work long hours just to get ahead. They can — and will — be better employees if they feel accomplished, but not constantly exhausted. To make that situation a reality depends on a work environment — which managers create — that doesn’t encourage overwork.