Work hours and productivity have limited correlation

Work-life balance at a startup

One of the most interesting things I’ve encountered when moving to NYC and running a company there is the long hours people tend to work while not being 100% productive. It is pretty normal to take a “long” lunch and go for a haircut. People manage their private affairs like doctor’s appointments while at work. These long hours are a charade and are more for the benefit of being physically in the office than being 100% productive.
The other related thing is “working from home” which is often loosely translates to taking a private day while being ‘available”. It is a direct correlation with the limited number of vacation days people tend to get and they compensate with private days.

I don’t buy into that.

I have a simple rule which I tell everyone in my team. I want you to work 8 hours a day and I want you to accomplish your goals. If you need more hours in the day to accomplish your goals, you need to ask for help. But if shit hits the fan for whatever reason, I expect you to be there 24/7 and weekends.

Another rule I like to put into place is ample vacation days with a minimum of 20. It comes with the strict rule that you take off when you’re off and you work when you’re not.

In my experience, it usually takes 3-6 months for people to adapt to these policies which are a bit foreign in NYC corporate landscape. It sometimes takes a couple of nudges to make them understand that “working from home” really means taking a day off.

The biggest upside for the company and its managers is that there’s less frustration about the availability of people. I hear this complaint a lot where founders complain about their workforce not putting in the time they want them to. I usually ask them a few questions about their policies and more often than not it is the fuzziness of their own policies which causes their frustration. It is better to be more binary.

In general, I notice that the number of hours people put in is strongly correlated with how well the company is doing and how well they feel connected to that success. The best motivator is to make people feel they have an influential role in that success. In general, this applies to all disciplines.

The longer people work long hours, they will eventually get burned out. The point of burn out is different for everyone. It is unfair to put people in a position, they can’t keep up with those long hours and promote people who are more tolerant of it. They’re not necessarily the smartest or best people on your team. It is just one aspect of that equation. Like everything else, it is a balance. It is best to keep it healthy.

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