Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Long and Relentless Hours of Work - Learn From Athletes

We are taught, and we teach, hard work delivers results.

In many challenging situations, we default to working harder, working longer or both. Not only is this our own response, critique of hours being worked is often the default reaction of Leaders.

I have worked in organisations where a close check was kept on how many hours are being worked. I know of one company, a significant (now) publicly listed organisation. where it was strongly rumoured the CEO required a weekly report of when access cards were first activated by each member of the management team each morning, and last activated each afternoon.

This resulted in behaviours that in some cases were as amusing as they were paranoid.

And the currency of hours at work applies not only when there are issues or problems. The push is all too often to work longer, or be seen to work longer all the time. More is better.

In conversation with an experienced professional on 30 June this year, (a Friday) they confessed their state of mental exhaustion from running flat out towards the end of the financial year. Their real concern was knowing that on Monday, they had to run even harder as the clock had returned to zero for the start of the new financial year. They were doubting their ability to continue under such repetitive stress and said they feared making errors that would be costly to both clients and their own reputation.

Put simply, we tend to gravitate to what is easier to see and easy to count, and hours worked is visible and countable.

A senior colleague of mine from days long past had a very clear mantra, “output matters, not input”.

The importance of tapering has long been practiced by athletes and is viewed as being mandatory if an individual’s best performance is to be achieved. It is also scientifically proven. or to put it another way, tapering is critical to achieving maximum output.

Amateur endurance marathon runners get to the taper stage of their preparation and have feelings of guilt believing they should do more training than their taper dictates. They will regularly over train and their subsequent performance suffers, or worse, they become injured and their state of mind suffers greatly.

In business, we push others, or push ourselves to run hard all of the time. We then suffer frustration when illness (injury) occurs, quality suffers, mistakes are made and morale deteriorates (state of mind).

The innovative business is one that recognises the need for employees to have peaks and troughs within their work cycle, just as the athlete does in their training plan. A successful entity will require, and schedule creative or thinking space for staff and provide a means by which ideas can be channelled and then treated with respect. This time is prioritised and mandated.

Over the years, many business practices have been incorporated in to sport. It is past time a few went the other way.

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