Per’s Pearls: Longer hours don’t equal more production or better results

“We sell email, if we screw up, no one’s gonna die.”

I’m going to take a swipe at looking down the path a bit ahead and seeing what may happen with a techie’s lens. Argue with me, call me an idiot, but let’s try and keep to a data-driven discussion.

What do we owe our jobs?

When I was interviewing with Aaron Smith, our CEO, for the CRO position, we had several deep discussions on what work meant to us and what sort of company we wanted to build. One thing we were in violent agreement on, was longer hours don’t equal more production or better results. Sageflo has a half-day Friday and no work on the last Friday of the month policy that is, not shockingly, very popular. Do I peel out at the stroke of 12 every Friday? Uhhhh, no. I’m in sales and have a ton of work to do, but I will leave after I’ve gotten done what I can and then I hard unplug for the weekend.

Do The Math

Aaron had tracked performance and found that despite an 11.2% decrease in time expectations (this took me a half-hour to figure out, please don’t make me share the math), productivity was in line or above what was expected. Which tracks with several larger sample size studies.

An Icelandic study, over four years, tracked 2,500 employees whose 35-36 workweeks showed productivity stayed the same or improved, while the researchers found that “worker wellbeing dramatically increased across a range of indicators, from perceived stress and burnout to health and work-life balance.“, according to the Autonomy findings.

A Microsoft Japan study from 2019 (pre-pandemic) found that reducing the workweek by one day led to a 40% increase in productivity, increased employee happiness, and resulted in a 23% decrease in electricity usage.

Finally, in 2018, Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand trust management company, announced a 20% gain in employee productivity and a 45% increase in employee work-life balance after a trial of paying people their regular salary for working four days. The company made the policy permanent.

Cognitive Studies

Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term “Flow” in 1975 to describe those moments when you’re completely absorbed in a challenging but doable task. Think of this heuristic technique in relation to your workday. What percentage of your time is focused on activities that will progress your work and drive your company forward? Wouldn’t it be better that when we’re at work, we’re focused on work; and when we’re off work, we’re present for ourselves, our families, our interests, our passions?  There are a host of studies that show that we’re only able to focus for so long on a task before we’re running on empty and just taking up space.

One of my colleagues used to say, “we sell email, if we screw up, no one’s gonna die”. It was his way of not taking ourselves too seriously. Now I think of two of my college roommates who are doctors. If they screw up at work, people die.  And yet, the medical field still holds onto this bizarre fascination with driving residents to work 70-80 hours per week during hospital rotations and 40-50 hours per week on outpatient clinic rotations. Lawyers on a partner track routinely work 60-80 hours as do the wall street bros. One must ask, is it any wonder that drug and alcohol abuse is rampant in these industries; and what is slipping between the cracks due to cognitive failure?

Goal vs. Hours

As a good manager, business owner, or employee think of the Outcomes for which your work strives. Mine is simple- grow Sageflo to a +$50MM in sales company over the next five years. To achieve this goal, I need to break down everything into manageable bits and work every hour of the workweek to accomplish the steps to the end goal. What is your high-level goal, and what are the steps you need to take to reach them? Do I think about work when I’m away from my computer? Absolutely! The best time for me is when I’m on my yoga mat or in my garden weeding. My brain can roam, the wheels can turn freely, and then BAM! Big idea, or small realization, or recollection that I need to send out that email. But none of that would be possible if I’m perennially exhausted from looking busy.

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Posted by percaroe

Despite my varied experiences, I'm a salesperson, and for me, that means solving people’s problems. Father of three/ Husband to one wife/ Marketing Junkie/ Voracious Reader/ Foodie/ improbable Yogi