Working long hours has become a badge of honor among Americans, particularly for startup teams and entrepreneurs. Founders expect to work 60-plus hours per week, and employees feel obligated to burn the midnight oil alongside them.
Entrepreneurs know that long hours come with the territory when they’re starting businesses. But the pressures of launching a company — from chasing income opportunities to pitching investors — create the perfect conditions for stress and anxiety. In the startup world, “follow the leader” is a mantra, not a kids’ game. If you need a break, chances are your employees do too.
Anyone who works on a new venture will be hungry for success and eager to learn. But stressful days and late nights lead to burnout. Once people realize that their health and personal lives suffer because of their jobs, they rethink their commitments. If you want to maintain that early energy, you have to model a sustainable approach to work.
Flexibility Equals Productivity
Employees feed off their leaders. When staff members see their bosses leaving before 5 P.M. or taking vacation time to be with their families, they feel comfortable doing the same. Knowing that my staff members take cues from me when it comes to work-life balance, I’ll schedule team days out of the office or suggest that they take personal time as needed.
But a few days away from the grind isn’t always enough. Different people function best under different circumstances, and more hours worked doesn’t always equate to better productivity. That’s why my company allows employees to keep flexible schedules. As long as they’re meeting their responsibilities, I’m happy to see people work shorter days. In fact, I encourage it.
Giving staff members the option to work when they choose often results in increased productivity and morale. Your employees are adults, and inviting them to set their own schedules shows that you respect their autonomy.
Shorten Work Days Without Losing Momentum
It’s important to be a realist when you’re managing a team. People have lives outside the office; when they feel stretched too thin between their personal and professional obligations, their work performance may suffer. As a father, I recognize how important it is to chaperone your kids’ field trips or take them to doctors’ appointments. My team members can’t excel if they’re wracked with guilt over not being home enough.
In small businesses, every person plays an extremely important role. One misstep can lead to serious financial consequences. If there’s any indication that an employee is losing interest or is in the office only for a paycheck, the collective morale suffers. Working long hours also leads to depression, obesity, and a host of other health conditions that will derail your employees — and therefore your company.
Be clear on what you expect from your employees, and trust them to live up to your standards. My team members know what caliber of work is expected, and they have the option to work from home or work fewer hours as long as they deliver high-quality results. Not everyone thrives in a remote or flexible work environment, but most people will appreciate the opportunity to self-direct and approach tasks in ways that suit their needs.
Even if remote working isn’t an option for your company, consider abbreviated workdays as an alternative. Having less time in the office forces people to prioritize instead of wasting a few hours on Facebook before knuckling down on deadline. Here’s how to cultivate the shorter workday mentality without sacrificing productivity:
1. Break tasks into sprints.
Even the toughest projects seem achievable when divided into smaller assignments. Place benchmarks throughout the project timeline so that you can work in sprints instead of trying to run a marathon. People will feel less pressure to pull late nights at the office if they know they can knock items off their to-do lists in a few hours. Sprinting lends itself to better task management than working on long-term deadlines with few explicit steps along the way.
2. Take the team out to lunch twice a month.
Set a standing lunch date with your employees at least every two weeks. Don’t put any time constraints on the outing so everyone can relax and enjoy the meal. Getting out of the office allows co-workers to see one another as human beings because people tend to be more authentic when official roles aren’t dictating their personalities. They’ll collaborate more effectively as they bond, and they’ll return to work refreshed after switching up the daily routine.
3. Create a comfortable office environment.
Stock your kitchen with snacks and beverages, and establish a place where people can disconnect from their computer screens. Knowing they have a place to decompress gives employees peace of mind. They need to turn off from time to time while working through complex programming tasks, creative projects, or document analyses. Providing the space and amenities signals that you want them to take care of themselves, rather than working to the point of exhaustion.
4. Reward employees with unscheduled paid days off.
After an especially grueling stretch, a day off is just what the doctor ordered. I recently gave my employees the Friday before Memorial Day off so that we could all return refreshed and ready to hit the ground running the following Tuesday. The extra time was sorely needed, and there was a renewed energy in the office when we returned. Surprising your team members with paid days off after a job well done lets them know that you value their hard work.
5. Schedule regular one-on-one meetings.
Face-to-face meetings keep you involved in your employees’ lives. When I sit down with individual team members, I can tell who is doing well and who is becoming overwhelmed. Sometimes people’s good intentions overshadow their realistic capabilities, so keep an eye on people who consistently volunteer for new tasks. Regular sit-downs will ensure that they’re using that enthusiasm effectively instead of getting buried under stress. Startup life isn’t for everyone, but you can often find workable solutions before someone becomes so burned out that he needs to quit.
Launching a business is hectic and demanding no matter what. But it’s also a long-term endeavor, and work-life balance is necessary for you and your employees to keep the company sustainable. Encourage your team members to take personal time, hit the gym to blow off steam, and get a full night’s sleep — and follow your own advice. Your business relies on your being the best version of yourself, and you can’t do that when you’re in the office more than you’re engaged with the outside world.