The importance of wellbeing at work in demanding professional services

A 24/7 always on call culture makes no sense

The norm is that demanding professional services workers – in consulting, finance, high tech, to name a few – work all the time. Pushing 70 to 80-hour work weeks, however, makes no sense. Research has shown that working long hours is not a requirement for high quality work and creating impact – even for consultants. Still, many companies promote a long week and a 24/7 culture. Ideal employees are always on call and available.

The appearance of busyness has become more important than actually getting things done

A culture that sees long hours as a value in itself and evaluates employees by their busyness does no good for any company. It turns employees into stressed out machines that eventually break down. Or, leads employees to actively search for ways to get around the perceived long hours requirement and make it look like they work a lot. Only 30 percent of employees openly reveal that the culture’s demand to work all the time doesn’t fit them, and might at the same time risk their reputation and career advancement possibilities.

The appearance of busyness has become more important than actually getting things done, which is stupid. And neither working too much nor appearing as working a lot does any good for efficiency or results.

Employees want to commit to their jobs, and show their commitment. They want opportunities to learn and grow, and great managers. But if this requires systematically working too long hours (or faking so), it becomes a real risk for both the employee and employer. If displaying commitment to the company requires employees to look like they’re working all the time, the company can and should alter their expectations and how they operate.

 

Working long hours damages both you and the company

If you work long weeks too often, the number of mistakes you make increases, your productivity goes down the drain, and recovering from all the hours put into work requires more and more time and energy.

We don’t encourage anyone to clock a lot of hours.

I myself have in the past flirted with a burnout, have suffered from moderate depression, and been repeatedly totally worn out, mainly due to doing too much. It took months to recover, and once recovered, I repeated the pattern again and again.

In hindsight, I could say I’ve had at a bit of an impostor syndrome, not believing in myself nor my abilities, and compensated this with over-preparation, being super-critical towards my work, and aiming for perfectionism – putting in a lot of hours. During the years, I’ve gradually started to recognize that innately I have a somewhat flawed way of thinking, and aim to slowly but steadily change the way I think of my own work.

At 3XO, we don’t encourage anyone to clock a lot of hours. Of course, realism is that our projects have deadlines, and occasionally days really are long, but it cannot be the norm. An 80-hour week as a “regular week” is just not sustainable for anyone.  

To be honest, we have done one long stint in one of our projects, with the whole team working 19 days straight (okay, resting a bit on a Sunday), but afterwards we were all totally exhausted. And it took a long time for us to recover as individuals and as an organization, and get back to normal speed. The experience reminded us that that’s not the way to do it, and nowadays we emphasize proactive anticipation and preparation in our assignments.

 

Reflect on what you do

Doing a lot of work is not a requirement for a consultant to get things done and create impact. Doing the right things is. To accomplish this, reflection, off-work activities and rest are crucial.

At a company providing professional services, everyone should during the workweek have time to just think and ponder, both individually and together with colleagues and the team, about what really matters:

  • What am I doing?
  • Why?
  • What does what I’m doing achieve?
  • How could the company and I make the workplace and culture even better?

Reflecting on these questions brings immense value to the whole company, and the best solutions to challenges and problems are achieved through reflection.

Doing a lot of work is not a requirement for a consultant to get things done and create impact. Doing the right things is.

However, reflection is hard work. It as well requires adequate time off for family, hobbies and rest. Personally, I’ve come up with the best work-related solutions not through late hours at the office, but by having the time for hobbies, personal projects and rest. These bring insights and creativity to work as well. 

 

Aiming for a culture and environment of trust, you can focus on output, not work hours

As a company, you need to acknowledge the employees who get things done, not the ones who appear as working a lot of hours. You need to create a culture where everyone can genuinely bring their own personality to the workplace and express themselves as who they are. And both employees and leaders must be unafraid to openly say when they’re doing too much, push back, and ask for help to remove something from their table.

This all naturally requires an environment of trust and psychological safety. Both between the employee and employer, among colleagues and peers, and together with clients and collaborators.

Managers can lead the way by openly promoting their own interests and hobbies and the importance of off-work activities, providing clear direction and treating employees equally and fairly, and reserving time for mentoring. This is impossible if you as a manager are doing long hours all the time, so you can lead by example and start working shorter weeks.

With the manager setting the example, employees can get the courage to follow suit, and pursue a more balanced life as well. And with a fair boss, employees sleep better, are happier at the workplace, and create more value for the company.

A positive and fair approach results in wellbeing and peace of mind for the whole workplace.