Efficiency, Effectiveness and Wellness in the post-COVID Workplace
In 1840, organized labor compelled factory owners to limit their workdays to eight hours. Subsequent to this action, management discovered that output actually increased, while mistakes and accidents decreased. In 1916, the Adamson Act established an eight-hour day for railroad workers. This was the first federal law that regulated the hours of workers in private companies. The eight-hour day became a standard for most workers in 1937, when the Fair Labor Standards Act was first proposed under the New Deal (Samuel, 2000).
Before COVID changed perceptions about how people could accomplish their tasks, leaders expected employees to put in long days at the office, and then respond to emails at all hours. They were expected to willingly donate nights, weekends, and vacation time; all without complaining (Carmichael, 2015). The organizational charts of many companies have work cascading from the top of the organizational pyramid down to the bottom. In that version, we work long hours because authority figures (our bosses) tell us to. Managers want their employees to be “Humble, Hungry, and Smart” (Lecioni, 2016). The problem with “hungry” is that a work ethic equating with excess work hours (or the perception of busyness) is an old-school management philosophy that is not sustainable. It leads to overwork, diminished effectiveness, and burnout. That’s not to say we can’t work very hard or for very long hours. We can. We just can’t do it routinely. A week of 60 hours to resolve a crisis is very different from chronic overwork. Predictable, required time off makes teams more productive (Perlow, 2009).
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