What are you really afraid of missing out on?

Exhausted man slumps over the seat in front of him in a bus, while the rain runs down the window.

It’s time to stop the madness, in business. This is a short exhortation to everyone, not just to founders. It’s an exhortation about care, and timing, and expectation.

This week, Josh Bersin wrote this article about his research into the status of wellbeing demands in companies around the world. He found the demand to be universal, that the focus on wellbeing is, in some cases, almost extreme. He asks, do companies need to become parents? He asks, where do we stop? Is it necessary? He argues that it’s a Human Resources issue.

I want to talk back to this, and my first comment is that people aren’t just resources. They’re people. They’re you, and they’re me. We are all the same. The only thing that we all want is to be happy.

Darius Foroux says that the happiness mantra is bullshit; that actually, it’s usefulness that is important. He’s not right either. Happiness is a by-product of usefulness. So the ultimate goal is still happiness. What Darius has missed is that contentment is the passive cousin of satisfaction. For him, satisfaction beats traditional standards of happiness: It means ‘satisfactory payment’. The warm feels of being useful is Darius’s satisfactory payment.

So, the argument about happiness stands. The trouble is, nobody can define your happiness for you.

That’s where I come back to this issue of wellbeing in companies. The research conducted by Bersin – I won’t claim how extensive it is – shows that people want more free time. They’re overworked. They have health issues. Companies are now setting meetings for 9 am – like it’s late in the day!

Can we pull all of this back a notch? Can we stop trying to solve the problem by doing more things at work? Can everyone just fucking go back to real life and enjoy it? One company in New Zealand has, and their output has improved, not worsened.

You may all have forgotten that our dads and grandads fought for the eight-hour day. They did it for a reason. That reason is really fucking similar to the problems that human resources consultants are trying to solve: ‘To prevent excesses and abuses’.

That battle wasn’t a simple one to win. It began as early as 1810, and in Australia and New Zealand, we didn’t gain the benefit until the mid 20th Century. There is a damned good reason why our mums and dads were union members. They were protecting their right to a balanced life.

The problem that we’re seeing in workplaces now is the same thing: Ten to 16-hour days. Six or seven-day weeks.

And while he might be of a political leaning not to your taste, Karl Marx was bang-on when he wrote that it

…not only produces a deterioration of human labour power by robbing it of its normal moral and physical conditions of development and activity, but also produces the premature exhaustion and death of this labour power itself.

If you don’t believe that it causes premature death, look at Japan. One in every 5 workers are at risk of dying at work from exhaustion.

Join in me a large, loud response to this: FUCK THAT.

Your life is short. The life of your employees is short. Business flourished even with only eight hours a day: The 9 am to 5 pm grind isn’t that any more. Employees believe that they are expected to stay on to do epic amounts of work just because their employers can’t work out how to make more employees fit with their demands for profit.

Employees: If your workplace can’t make your job work in the hours you are given, that is not your problem. If you are switched-on all day, showing up as your best self, and the work is not being done in time, that is not your problem. That’s your employer’s problem.

Don’t believe me? Start taking some responsibility for standing up for your own rights, and your own wellbeing. It isn’t your employer’s job to do it for you. That’s your job. If you get in trouble, show them your work, show them your productivity, and ask them what they’d like you to do, because their expectations are too high. Sure, you want to please them. Instead, put yourself first. If your wellbeing was actually important to them, they’d solve your problem. Right?

Founders of companies, senior executives, tend to be high achievers. They want to serve people as much as possible. They want to be in charge. They believe that doing more, more, more, more, more is for their highest good. The trouble is, as soon as something gets in the way (like retirement), they die.

I will reiterate. Your life is short. Great customer service does not require being on 24 hours a day. Great customer service is empathetic, beautiful relationship-maintenance, within known boundaries. Sales does not require being on 24 hours a day. If they really want to work with you, they’ll wait until after 9 am tomorrow morning. If you are replying to messages at 2 am, and you believe that that this is the thing that’s winning you business, you are completely and utterly deluded. Because if it was that critical, you’d pay a night shift. Right?

Finally, if you really, strongly believe that you gotta do this, then the issue isn’t about a lack of wellbeing at work. It’s a question of you feeling like you’re missing out if you don’t do it. So the question for you, then, is: What do you think you’re missing out on?

You’re trying to fill a hole in yourself.

In Summary

The problem of wellbeing is a company issue, but it isn’t a human resources issue. It’s a structural issue. If you are finding that your employees are burned out, be realistic about your expectations. If you had to structure your business so that everybody – yes, even you – was allowed just eight hours every day, how would that transform your business? What if you reduced it even more and gave people the choice of three days off every week instead of just two? Or the equivalent hours but with later starts? My money is on dramatic transformation: Happier, more engaged, loyal staff. The problem is how you have designed the structure. So go back to your design.

1 thought on “What are you really afraid of missing out on?

  1. HELL YES.

    I’ve always been really strict about hours worked, because I did 5 years in the tech industry where unpaid overtime is pretty much expected and I think it’s ridiculous. People are still sitting at work at 8PM and companies treat this like a good thing. I think, “you pay me for 8 hours a day. You get me for 8 hours a day. The rest of my time is mine and I don’t really consider you a charity case so I’m going home to do the things that make my life worth living.” I think I worked about 5 hours overtime in my whole stint in that industry.

    I worked at a company that gave out an award every month for people who went above and beyond. Good idea in theory, but the CEO would give a little speech about the person that won and the speech would very often consist of “he won’t hesitate to work a weekend to help clients” and “she’s the first one here in the morning and the last to leave.” It really bred a culture of long hours. And I just think, couldn’t that stuff WAIT? Is it really that urgent?

    Incidentally, I won the award once. On the quality of my work. Not the amount of time I spent in the office. Also, although plenty of senior management talked about the expectation of working extra time because #startuplife, no one ever told me to my face I needed to work more and I got promoted, so this is anecdotal but despite the culture of it, it doesn’t necessarily have an impact on your career.

    Now that I work for myself I work a LOT more. I stop any and all client work as soon as my husband gets home from work, but I do often write books in the evening and on weekends, largely because it’s fun.

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