World of Buzz alerted many social media users after they published a finding done by Kizi (source), that states KL ranked 3rd Most overworked city in the world. Kisi’s study is assessed via 3 major factors revolving work life balance: Work Intensity, City Livability and Social Services. The third factor includes quality health care, affordable cost-of-living and ample time off.
As many organisations has started to introduce the concept of remote working (I wrote about it extensively here)., the traditional boundaries provided by the physical office, employees are working longer and the hours became irregular. The direct impact is such that the lack of separation between personal life and job directly affects productivity (longer hours to achieve the same output), lower engagement and potentially causing illness. One could even argue that it’s a direct antecedent towards absenteeism and turnover.
How Leaders can declare war against Overwork
Leaders should take the lead and be motivated to tackle the problem of overwork, considering that it has direct implications towards both organisation and employees. Leaders can do the following to prevent overworking their team, starting from creating a culture of care, and slowly moving toward creating a policy that encourages time off and work boundaries.
- Healthy Leadership & Leading by Example
Leaders can first look into their toolbox into enabling programs that promote wellness. Gym membership, daycare, family inclusive health insurance policies are usually a good start to kick off this conversation and setting in mindset that organisations truly care to help employees combat overwork. Leaders should also never be expected to work 80-hours a week and never make that into a norm as well.
- Culture of Care
When leaders start measuring how well they care for themselves and their team members, differences in quality versus quantity of the time they put in will start to show. By keeping track of the quality time instead of quantity time needed to perform a work, a leader would be able to devise strategies in priority work delegation to ensure that all work is assigned into a quality time slot.
- Setting Clear Expectations
Keeping clear communication lines open is the way to go. Isaac Song often likes to perform a strategy called “Leaving Loudly” in the office: announcing to everyone that the leader is leaving on time can help to set boundaries and promote increased work-life balance among all employees. When employees work over a prescribed timeline, leaders too should sit down with the team to understand what’s holding them back and what the organisation’s viewpoint on long working hours.
- Advocate for Self-Care
If you have a say in what goes in an office pantry and there is no coffee machine in there, you are doing HR wrong. Healthy and happy team members often do “coffee talk” in the office. Apart from lunch breaks, encourage your team members to fully utilise the coffee machine to get some coffee and take a quick break in between work. If you can also include light snacks such as cookies – you are really thinking for your organisation.
- Do Not Perpetuate Negative Validation
Too often we heard “thank you for calling into this conference call despite being sick”. When a leader does this, they are effectively condoning the act of overwork and appreciate employees who overworks. Instead, leaders should validate and affirm employees to take their leave and be left alone.
- Hire Often and Hire Right
This is a simple mathematics problem that most leaders seem to be unable to grasp. When business is going well or reaching peak season, the output will undoubtedly increase. If the output is increased by three fold, it is only logical to hire 2 more employees to ensure that workload is well balanced. One might ask “hiring people takes a long time to interview and train, how is this going to work?” – which is a legitimate question, but as a leader, one should be able to anticipate the cyclical nature of the work peak and pivot accordingly.
- Two Way Communication
Employees need to be heard and appreciated. Leaders need to create an environment to allow communication from bottom-up to gather insight into what is working and what is not. This will allow them to see and measure impacts of the change implemented, and employees will often appreciate such measures. Leaders too should not retaliate when any employees provide critical feedback but rather maintain conversation to work on the best possible outcome.
- Leave Employees Alone on Leave
Organisations sometimes expect employees to respond even when they are away (read here about Ryan who did this to the extreme: Source 1; Source 2) This, coincides with point #5 about sending the wrong message. When an employee is on leave, it is a valuable opportunity to let everyone know that the organisation will not converge into personal life and ensure that employees get quality time off.
- Better Time Management
Let’s face it: some meetings can be an email. Some 30-page reports can be shortened into 3 sentences, and if you need approval from 10 people for a single thing, you are doing it wrong. Revamping workflow and gaining efficiencies will give people time back in their day to work on high-priority work, or rather, go home and rest.