A recent LinkedIn survey shows that 70 percent of people -- whether employees or business owners -- say their biggest cause of stress is a lack of work-life balance. A Gallup survey shows that over 40 percent of employees often feel burned out, while 25 percent always feel burned out.
All of which is a huge problem.
But should it be a huge problem? After all, plenty of studies show that people are busy, but not productive. (Or focused. Or efficient. Or whatever word you like.)
Not because they're lazy -- far from it -- but because long hours still serve as a proxy for dedication, commitment, and productivity.
Which is why, in the early days of Microsoft, Bill Gates memorized employee license plates. "I knew everyone's license plates," Gates said, "so I could look out in the parking lot and see when did people come in, when they were leaving."
And that raises a key question; what matters more: Hours worked, or results?
Clearly, longer hours don't result in greater output. Microsoft employees may have been putting in long hours... but that doesn't mean they were always working.
We've all known plenty of people who put in tons of hours but accomplished relatively little. Sure, they came in early, but they used that time to "settle in." Sure, they stayed late, but they spent that time surfing and chatting and complaining about how many hours they had to work. (Because "I'm so busy" is the new humblebrag.)
They were at work... but not working.
Which is why no less an authority than Adam Grant says, "We can be as productive and creative in six focused hours as in eight unfocused hours," and suggests a 9-to-5 workday should end at 3 instead of 5 p.m.
Because results matter more. Hours worked are irrelevant. Tangible, valuable results are everything.
All of which sounds great... but if employees do work shorter days shorter weeks, how can you make sure they stay just as (or maybe even more, since they'll be happier) productive?
For starters, hire people you trust -- and then trust they will perform. Which results in the flip side of trust: When you show people you trust them, they start to trust you.
Pretend Your Employees Work From Home...
Gates eventually realized that managing by results was more important than evaluating performance by hours worked.
And a much better use of his time: Seeing who was still working took time away from developing new ideas, new strategies, new plans...
The key is to stop worrying about how many hours your employees work -- by "butts in seats" -- and to start leading and managing by expectations and deliverables.
That means adopting the same approach great leaders use to manage remote workers.
When someone works from home, you can't really tell how long they work; all you know is what they get done.
Which is true for every employee.
So how do you manage in-office employees as if they are remote workers?
Evaluate them by answering the following simple questions:
1. Do they get their work done?
You have expectations, regardless of where people work: tasks, timelines, goals, deliverables, etc. Ultimately every employee should be evaluated by what he or she does.
All you care about is that the work gets done. Set expectations. Set targets. Set timelines.
And then get out of the way.
Because "busy" doesn't mean "productive." "Present" doesn't mean "engaged."
And don't worry: If I know I have six hours to get something done, I'll make sure it gets done. I won't hang out in the break room. (I won't want to hang out in the break room because everyone else will be focused on getting their work done.) I won't play around on social media. I won't work on unimportant tasks.
If I know that I can go home at 3 p.m. if my work is done... I'll get my work done.
Enjoying a better work-life balance is all the incentive I'll need.
2. Are they an important part of the team?
Casual conversations happen less when people work fewer hours. Hanging out at someone's desk, staying after a meeting, impromptu hallway "meetings"... those things happen less when people are focused and "on."
Which you may think will be a problem: Fewer casual conversations might mean fewer times that employees can brainstorm together. Or hear about a problem another person faces that they can help solve. Or build better relationships with people in other departments.
But it's really not a problem: While some casual conversations do lead to productive results, few are actually work-related -- especially when everyone works long hours. In that case, chatting with Bob from accounting is a chance to escape work for a few minutes, not collaborate on an innovative new idea.
Expect your employees to actively suggest new ideas. Expect them to create their own projects and tell you about them. Expect them to set and share personal goals. Expect them to recommend solutions.
On the flip side, expect them to tell you when they're struggling, when they need help, when they need direction, when something -- anything -- is unclear.
And then expect them to also function as a team. To help other people. To collaborate. To share. To care not just about what they accomplish, but what everyone else accomplishes.
Make team results a part of every employee's deliverables.
Because even though everyone may work less hours, everyone is still part of a team.
3. Are they available?
Many bosses want their employees to be constantly connected: By phone, email, or best of all, still down the hall.
But "urgent" is rarely "important." Rarely does the thought you have at 6 p.m. need to be communicated and received by the employee right now. Rarely is the piece of information you think you need at 6.30 p.m. actually necessary right now. First thing tomorrow is almost always soon enough.
You should be able to contact employees in the event of an emergency. And your employees will understand the "availability tradeoff" that comes with greater freedom.
Ultimately, you need to be able to talk to your employees when you need to... but you'll soon find you don't "need to" as often as you once thought.
A realization that will make life better for your employees.
And less stressful for you.
... But Never, Ever Threaten
A friend decided to implement shorter workweeks at his business. Some employees work shorter days. Others work four days instead of five.
(Because some functions, especially customer-facing functions, will always require sufficient coverage to meet customer needs. You can't shut a deli down at 3 p.m. Or customer service. Or a production line...)
He told his employees he wanted to give them more free time: More family time, more personal time, more time to explore interests or hobbies or even side hustles...
And then he said, "But if this doesn't work, we're going right back to the regular schedule."
Understandable? Sure. He has a business to run. Any idea... any system... anytime something doesn't work, it needs to be fixed.
But that also goes without saying.
Threats set the wrong tone. Threats turn excitement into dread, making people focus on, "What will happen if this doesn't work?" instead of, "What can we all do to make sure this works?"
Instead, my friend should have said, "I'm really excited about this. There will be growing pains, and some things we'll have to figure out, but I know that if we all pull together we will make this work."
Show people you trust them... and they will trust you.
Show people you care... and they will care about you -- and your business. And then you both win.
Your employees get a better work-life balance, and you get the results you need.
Can't beat that.