If you want your people to put in more hours, you can go the Google route and offer everything from free burritos to onsite haircuts to keep them at the office longer. But these sort of perks are obviously expensive and probably won’t work anyway if your employees don’t already like their jobs. But what if I told you there’s a far cheaper way to convince your team to dedicate more time to work? In fact, there is such a way, new research suggests, and, better yet, it’s both free and makes management’s job easier. What is it? Just let you employees set their own schedules.
Less clock watching means greater productivity.
That’s the conclusion of a new working paper from three European professors that analyzes a large German data set, looking to see how the type of schedule an employee works affects his or her level of effort. The authors compare how many hours workers put into their jobs with the number of hours they’re contractually obligated to perform for a variety of scheduling arrangements. It turns out that it’s not those with clock-watching bosses who spend the longest hours on office-related matters. In fact, when management doesn’t record hours worked at all, letting employees set their own start and finish times and control their time off, workers put in an additional 7.4 hours a week above and beyond what they're obligated to do. Some of that’s down to demographic factors (more senior people are more likely to have this freedom and more likely to go the extra mile, for instance), but not all of it, the researchers conclude.
What happens when you treat adults like adults.
What’s the explanation for this phenomenon? It seems that–surprise! surprise!–treating your team like actual adults boosts intrinsic motivation, leading them to put in a greater effort on your company’s behalf. Take an already dedicated employee and offer her freedom from time monitoring and she’ll likely put in 75 more minutes of work a week than if you had continued to dictate her hours, the authors’ calculations indicate. This is not too shocking for veteran freelancers, many of whom will tell you (myself included) that they put in many more hours when they were freed from the nine-to-five grind. Some of that’s down to the economics of being your own boss demanding longer days, but some of it, I find at least, is simply a byproduct of losing yourself in work you feel intrinsically motivated to do well. It’s a pretty open-and-shut case from the employer’s perspective. Sure, if you run a retail or service business, there’s no way to chuck employee schedules, but if your team is doing office-based work, you might consider tossing your set hours and letting your people come and go as they please. The most likely downside to monitor won’t be less hours spent at work, but the opposite problem of always-on burnout (experience shows this is an issue with unlimited vacation policies in particular). Do you keep track of when your employees come and go? Should you stop?