It was a glorious Saturday afternoon in early summer and I was hunched over a picnic table garnishing a hamburger when my cell phone rang. I had been in the middle of a good laugh after someone had told a delightful little anecdote but noticed it was one of my employees and, since they were calling me on the weekend, thought it must be something important.
I politely excused myself and gave my employee my undivided attention. I had handed him a rather large project from an important client and several weeks earlier had asked him how long it would take to complete the project. They were apologetic that this was the day that they had said they would be able to finish it, were almost at the finish line, but that friends had come in from out of town.
Before he could even finish his story I asked why he was working on the project when it was so beautiful outside. I told him quite succinctly to stop his work and go out and enjoy the rest of the day and not bother me until Monday.
When I returned to finish garnishing my burger, the group of acquaintances I was sharing this beautiful barbecue with looked at me with their mouths agape saying, “I wish you were my boss”.
“Telling an employee to enjoy life is a boss’ job,” I replied. And I truly mean that, for the following reasons:
1) I handpicked my employees and I trust each and every one of them. I also know that none of them slack off when it’s not time. I let him set the parameters of when the job would be completed, I understand the nature of his job and what it would take to actually complete the project, and I knew full well that his finishing it in a couple of days meant I wouldn’t have to break any promises to our client. So we’d stay in good standing regardless. My experience has shown that giving my employees a great deal of freedom has yielded better results.
2) There is no evidence that working longer hours makes a person more productive. In fact, there have been several studies that outline the benefit to a company’s bottom line by giving employees greater flexibility in their working hours and that overworking employees can have very negative effects. Some studies even go so far as to suggest that overworking an employee can lead to them suffering from a variety of health issues leading to them having to miss work. If that weren’t enough, at least one study, Impacts of Late Working Hours on Employee’s Performance: A Case Study on Engineers in Telecom Company of Pakistan, by Quereshi et al., even suggests that overworking an employee could lead to unethical behavior including, “sexual harassment and breaching the code of conduct of the organization”.
3) I know that if I behave erratically, or make irrational demands from my employees, that it makes them question if we are a good fit. Pushed too far and I could be down one employee and that can be worse than the work not being done on time. Although telling him, “Sorry bud, the work has got to get done” might not have been an irrational demand on my part in this particular instance, I’m still stating quite clearly to him that work is more important than his relationship with his friends.
What is more important?
So this does raise the question: what actually is more important, work or friends? Many people spend more of their time, in a given week, at work than anywhere else, so we are forced to make several considerations based on this fact. The first is that, if they are going to be asked to spend so much time there, is it too small a thing to ask that they enjoy themselves? Second, should work and life really be kept so separate and need to be kept in balance, or is work very much a part of life that should fit harmoniously with all the other aspects of existence that we engage in? And finally, in business, it’s important to remember that relationships are everything, and that the social capital you build in fostering them, whether with clients or with staff, will last with you for the rest of your life.