From the CEO to the front-line employee, everyone feels squeezed for time. Talk to employees and their leaders, and you will hear they do not have enough resources (time, people, or tools) to manage the workload.
If you’re investing in engaging your employees, they may go above and beyond, putting in more time and effort to meet expectations. But no matter how engaged they were, to begin with (and only 30% of Americans are), overworked employees eventually burn out. If you don’t lose them completely, they will underperform. They may even sabotage the company to rectify a perceived injustice.
Employees perceive a time famine and it’s a problem. They feel expected to do more with less. Time management research shows perceived control of time reduces stress and predicts job satisfaction. By helping your employees see and use time more productively, you can improve their engagement and performance.
The standard workweek is longer for full-time salaried workers
Americans generally think of full-time employment in terms of office hours: nine to five, Monday to Friday. While many people deviate from this schedule, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reports Americans do in fact work about 35 hours per week, on average. However, that number comes from total hours worked divided by total people employed.
When Gallup looked at full-time employees in the US, they found the average workweek to be 47 hours. Only 8% worked under 40 hours, which the US government sets as the maximum before requiring overtime pay. And salaried employees work five hours more per week than full-time hourly workers — in part because salaried employees are less likely to be protected by overtime pay laws.
Modern work increases perception of longer working time
While many Americans believe they are working more than ever, records show fewer working hours compared to the past. Even in the 1960s and 1980s, Americans worked longer hours.
Part of the reason we perceive less time is that it’s become blended time. Technology brings leisure (i.e. social media) to the workplace, and work (i.e. emails) to leisure time, so work can easily stretch into every waking hour.
Even if we are not doing work, we’re often thinking about it. For those particularly driven to maximize wealth, there is increased anxiety both during work hours (to earn more money) and during leisure hours (to enjoy leisure enough to justify not earning more money).
This time famine has now made saving time more beneficial to life satisfaction than earning money or material purchases. Research shows people who prioritize time over money tend to be happier.
Boring and stressful work seems to last longer
Psychologists confirm different people have a different perception of how much time passes between the same two events. For instance, experiences can seem longer when they involve intense emotion like fear or intense sensation like bright lights, likely because the brain is more active creating more memories.
It also can appear like time is moving slowly when there is too little stimulation because we process more information looking for something interesting. The boring period is easily forgotten, though, because the brain doesn’t want to retain insignificant information.
When employees are bored in their jobs, they feel like they are working more hours and yet, later, they won’t remember much of what they did. Excitement can draw their attention to what you do need them to know and remember. Most of the time, though, you’ll want to create a more moderate — not too exciting and not too boring — working environment.
Overworking employees will harm them and the organization
In the days when most labors were farming or manufacturing, people worked long hours. But the demands of the modern world, knowledge work, and multitasking have made job stress more common and more detrimental to our health and performance. Spending too much time at the office costs us personally and as an organization.
While most businesses share a concern over absenteeism, many are unaware of the problems with presenteeism. When employees are sick, injured, or overstressed, showing up for work can worsen and prolong their suffering and limitations, all while performing at sub-optimal levels, more prone to error, and potentially spreading their illness.
More than half of Americans don’t take all their entitled vacation time. Even if company policy encourages employees to use vacation time and sick leave, company culture can send a different message. The American ideal and co-worker cues, plus the risk of losing a job or promotion, all lead them to work longer hours to be seen as hard workers. Many employees burn out from pushing themselves to meet perceived expectations.
If employees perceive their rewards (including pay) don’t equal their efforts (including work hours), they may engage in counterproductive work behaviors. These are intentional actions to harm the organization in order to restore a sense of justice. They may steal, sabotage, or deviate from production quantity or quality. They may even steal time through intentional time sheet errors for compensation they deem fairer. American companies lose an estimated trillion dollars to these activities every year.
Facilitate Time Balance with Modern HR Policies and Tools
It’s human nature for employees to feel they are working more than the fair amount and compensated less than the fair amount. So, how can you help them feel satisfied — and maybe even inspired — by their work and rewards?
Start from your current culture(s)
Get a clear understanding of your organizational culture, including the variety of values and expectations driving your employees. While employees with different perceptions of time may initially conflict, they can learn from each other to innovate a way of working that best serves your organization’s goals.
At the organizational and team level, clearly communicate any valid expectations about when to arrive and leave the workplace, or what activities are considered appropriate during paid time at work. Educate leaders to dispel any misconceptions around expectations to stay late at the office or skip the vacation, and encourage them to lead by example.
Use a time management system that empowers employees to track their own time so they see fair compensation for their efforts. At the same time, enable leaders to review time sheets and document their approval so they are accountable for upholding the culture and expectations of the organization.
Facilitate autonomy, flexibility, and accountability
Work-life balance (or perhaps more realistically, work-life blend) is now a major priority. Technology has allowed many organizations to offer flexible work arrangements, including remote work, which creates both opportunities and challenges for time management.
While employees are still assigned goals and deadlines, they can have different levels of control over when, where, and how they achieve them. Work schedules can adapt to each person’s circumstances and preferences, within written guidelines. Leaders must balance trust and respect with transparency and consistency in oversight, governance, and risk mitigation.
With autonomy over one’s own schedule comes accountability over tracking one’s own time and performance. And with individual flexibility comes team synchronization of schedules and targets. To stay competitive, employers need to adopt both policies and tools.
Offer options to improve quality of time
Let employees decide how to manage their time, to a reasonable degree, and support them with the guidance and tools to use their time effectively. If some employees work better with frequent breaks and casual conversations, for instance, provide them access to suitable space — separate from the people choosing to focus without distraction.
In addition to autonomy over the way they work, employees can also benefit from more influence over the type of work they do. Every job involves some unglamorous work, but employees can be encouraged to suggest or ask for tasks that suit their skills and interests. Not only will this keep them engaged and develop their skills, but it will more effectively apply hidden talent toward organizational objectives.
Aim to protect your employees from too much stress and too much boredom. Consider infusing their work experience with options to improve their engagement and overall quality of life, such as social, recreational, and volunteering activities with co-workers. After all, time flies when you’re having fun!
Time management for modern work
As work becomes more fluid and changes come faster, employees need the knowledge and tools to manage their time effectively. Whenever and wherever they are working, on whatever device, strategic organizations enable their productivity and performance.
Many people work better when they have autonomy and accountability over the way they work. Progressive employers provide them the tools to maximize the quality of their time while keeping the quantity of their time at work in fair perspective.