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Sep 13, 2017
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

“They work hard and aren’t afraid to put in extra hours, blood, sweat, and tears to accomplish their goals.”

This is how many company leaders would describe their top employees. However, these extra, hard-worked hours actually become overwhelming and are a waste of time.

According to “The Productivity of Working Hours” an October 2014 study by John Pencavel in The Economic Journal, employees working 70 hours weren’t more productive than those working 56 hours.

In many cases, putting in more hours doesn’t mean added productivity. In fact, working more hours increases the likelihood of burnout, higher levels of stress, and even cardiovascular disease, according to an October 2015 study in The Lancet.

Even your most dedicated and motivated employees are at risk of becoming overworked, disengaged, and unable to produce quality work. Here’s how you can get your team to work less and be more productive:

1. Encourage more time off

Offering time off as part of your benefits and perks plan isn’t enough anymore.

Your employees are working hard to prove they’re not just capable of doing their jobs, but are the best person to handle every challenge their positions throw at them. If they don’t feel adequately supported by management, they’ll believe taking time off makes them seem weak or incapable.

In fact, ProjectTimeOff’s February 2016 report, “The High Price of Silence,” of 5,641 American workers, found only 39% of non-managers feel supported in taking time off. However, 84% of managers agree that when employees take time off they return to work with improved focus and creativity.

This disconnect is causing employees to leave vacation days unused and jam as many hours as possible into the work week. Employers are aware employees need to work less hours in order to feel refreshed and renewed. However, the growing fear of taking time off will continue feeding this harmful pattern, unless leadership creates an atmosphere where taking time off is expected and encouraged.

Calm your team’s fears by adding benefits and systems that will make taking time off easier. Start by offering an ample amount of paid time off. Many employees can’t afford to take time off if they’re not compensated. By offering PTO you’re letting them know you view their time away from the office being just as valuable as their time in the office.

Now it’s time to calm another fear: the entire business will, in fact, not fall apart or be sent up in flames while they’re away.

Set up a buddy system for employees. This provides them with someone they can trust who is equipped and accountable for their tasks while they’re off enjoying some good rest and relaxation. When employees’ minds are at ease knowing their jobs are being taken care of, they’ll be able to relax and then come back ready to tackle new projects.

2. Offer goals with realistic timelines

Feeling overwhelmed or rushed to hit goals can make anyone go off the deep end. Goals with unrealistic timelines send employees’ minds into a frantic state, which leaves them working more hours, but not producing more.

Help employees work smarter, not harder, by setting goals with specific and realistic timelines. As they hit each step and check off goals, they’ll feel accomplished and ready to move forward.

However, it’s important to encourage your team to fight their natural instincts to prematurely move onto their next task. Let them know you don’t expect them to work ahead unless new goals and timelines have been set. Instead, this extra time should be used to regroup, get to know their co-workers, take an extended lunch, or even give themselves the afternoon off.

3. Make your expectations known

Putting productivity and time-off policies in place, then expecting employees to simply change overnight, will not solve the problem. In order to create a productive team that isn’t bogged down from working too many hours, leaders need to take a fully transparent approach to their expectations about hours worked.

If you’re lucky, most of your employees have a natural desire to overachieve and work hard for your company. Unfortunately, if employees believe your expectations are for them to continue working extra hours, they’ll continue striving to impress you and eventually won’t have anything left to give.

Sit down in a one-on-one setting to help employees prioritize tasks, be more efficient, and focus on time management. Make a clear list of goals and realistic timelines together. Add downtime to these timelines to reiterate your support and belief in working less to gain productivity. Further your point by creating a designated area where employees can decompress once goals are completed.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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