There is an old axiom that more is better. But is that really true? It seems logical that the more you work at something, the better it will be. It’s not as simple as that, though. At some point, you can actually be working too much, and the result might not be what you expect. If “more is better” is true, then it’s possible that another age-old saying is also accurate – perhaps there can be “too much of a good thing.”
The Law of Diminishing Returns
There is an economic rule known as the law of diminishing returns. Simply put, it means that there is a point at which adding more of anything will reduce production, or output. The classic example is adding more workers to a factory. At some point, the factory will be so crowded that workers will get in the way of each other, taking longer to build their product.
While this rule is usually meant to describe a factory production scenario, according to a Stanford University study, the same can be true for an individual worker’s production output as well. A person’s ability to perform his or her job decreases as the length of time they spend working increases over the course of a work shift. As employees get tired from working longer hours, the rate of work decreases and the number of mistakes increase. This can cause errors ranging from typos and clerical errors, to missed meetings, missed flights, and if you use your imagination, much worse.
In some industries, workers, such as airline pilots or bus drivers, are by law not allowed to work more than a certain number of hours in a row without a rest between active work times. For a pilot or driver, fatigue can be a serious, even life-threatening condition for the passengers and other crew members. The same is true for nurses and doctors, construction workers, police and firefighters, and military personnel, as well as many other professionals.
Working beyond the point of what is healthy for your body can be detrimental to the fundamental operation of your business, to the point where you (or your overworked employees) may put your company, and possibly your customers, at risk.
Being a Workaholic
There are some people for whom work is an exhilarating challenge. They dedicate themselves to their jobs and pour hours and hours of time into their work, oftentimes even if they’re not getting paid for this ‘overtime’. They seem to thrive on the pressure of business, deadlines, and the satisfaction of hard work. The reward is seen as better job opportunities, promotions, and recognition for hard work. While workaholics may seem like a boss’ dream employee, that kind of crazy, demanding work schedule isn’t sustainable in the long run.
The sad truth is that being a workaholic means having an addiction, in the very negative sense of the word. Over time, the stresses of being a workaholic can take their toll on a person’s body, causing fatigue, stress, depression, anxiety, and even physical ailments such as headaches and stomach problems. Workaholics suffer from burnout at higher rates than other workers, and someone that may seem like a star employee can quickly become a liability to your company. If that person is you, exhaustion may affect your ability to make the right decisions for your company, which could spell disaster.
A workaholic may seem to be super-productive in the short term, but the reality is that without proper work/life balance, the extra hours they put in now will likely catch up with them, which will cause them to have to cut back their hours due to exhaustion or physical illness. Or worse, they may simply stop showing up for work. If you’ve gotten used to having a workaholic around, your company may feel this imbalance significantly.
Resist the temptation to enable a workaholic, especially if it is yourself. In the long run, it’s probably not worth it.
It’s Not Only Physical Work
Sitting at a keyboard may not seem like a job that requires a high amount of energy, but employees with desk jobs are just as likely to experience fatigue as workers that have jobs that require more physical activity. Using one’s mental capacity for hours on end puts a strain on different muscles than physical exertion, but it can also lead to physical injury. There are several injuries that desk workers can sustain when working long hours, including repetitive stress injuries on wrists and forearms, back strain, eyestrain, and migraine headaches.
Humans require sufficient rest periods; this is an indisputable scientific fact. In 2013, Scientific American published an article confirming that brains need sufficient downtime in order to continue operating properly. It may not seem like it at first, but the law of diminishing returns applies just as much to an employee who can no longer think clearly after spending too much time behind a desk, staring at a computer and making phone calls.
Being the Boss of Balance
It’s important to make sure you find a balance between work and the other important parts of your life. This is especially true if you are responsible for other workers. If you want to be a good boss to yourself and to others, it’s important for you to keep track of the amount of time you and your workers spend working, as well as the amount of time spent away from the office. By enforcing a healthy work/life balance, you are guaranteeing that both you and your employees are always giving the optimal amount of productivity to the company. Your happy, well-rested employees will have greater job satisfaction, and be more likely to stay with you long-term.
Don’t measure your workplace success by the number of hours worked; it will give you a false sense of how your company is really performing. Studies have shown that people who work too many hours and don’t get enough rest are less productive overall and can suffer from serious physical and emotional problems over the course of time. In order to be at your peak of performance, experts say you need to balance your work time with down time. Don’t forget to take your employee’s health and well-being (and your own!) into account, in order to get the real picture of how well your business is doing.