Real Leaders

How to Work Smarter, Not Harder

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Employees who work too hard are less productive and more unhappy.

Sacrifice and hard work: The theme of every entrepreneur’s success story. The sleepless nights, lack of free time, and financial commitments are all worth it to see your company come to life. In fact, in the business world, these sacrifices have become somewhat of a bragging right.

Your drive got you to where you are, and now you have a profitable company to show for all your hard work. To continue that momentum, you need to make sure you expand your team with the right employees. We all want our employees to be as dedicated to our companies as we are; to care not only about their quality of work but also about the future of the business. An ideal employee would be willing to take on additional responsibilities, put in long hours, and happily meet tight deadlines without being asked.

This, however, is problematic. In our culture, there’s a belief that success is tied to the amount of work you do—or, how much you “grind.” But there’s a thin line that separates going above and beyond from being overworked—one that you must be aware of.

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Your employees should be working smarter, not harder

You’ve heard the “work smarter, not harder” adage before. Contrary to what some leaders believe, it’s not just a cutesy saying; it’s actually sound business advice. Your employees are under immense pressure to push themselves as far as they can, frequently flirting with their own breaking points, for the promise of a promotion or salary increase. But these perks no longer come as steadily, even in larger corporations.

So, not only are many work cultures more intense then they’ve ever been, employees aren’t even being compensated for the work they are doing. As you can imagine, that’s not good for your employees or your business. As it turns out, overworked employees are actually less efficient than their counterparts. A study by Stanford University found that when employees work more than 40 to 50 hours in a given week, they are two-thirds less productive. This is not only detrimental to their quality of work, but it’s also dangerous to their mental health.

Protecting your team from employee brownout

our employees will understand that there are certain days and weeks throughout the year when they will be required to work longer hours—like during month-end closings or leading up to a company event. If they work like this every day, and towards no significant incentive, it’s going to cause what Michael Kibler refers to as employee brownout.

Sound familiar? This may sound similar to employee burnout, but Kibler explains why the two are different. When employees are afflicted by brownout, they are not yet in a critical situation. Instead, they “seem to be performing fine: putting in massive hours, grinding out work while contributing to teams, and saying all the right things in meetings. However, they are operating in a silent state of continual overwhelm, and the predictable consequence is disengagement.” In other words: if you place all the burden on your team, it’s going to be difficult for you to retain your top talent.

Leaders don’t always intend for their employees to shoulder this burden. When you have a lot on your plate, it’s easy to want to delegate tasks and responsibilities that are otherwise preventing you from staying on top of your department or focusing on the broader goals of your business. While this may seem like the solution to your workload, it could very quickly turn into someone else’s hardship.

Expectations should come from the top down

Don’t assume your staff will tell you if they’re feeling overworked because they most likely won’t. To them, doing what they’re told without asking questions is their way of showing you they are dedicated, enthusiastic, and ready for the next opportunity that opens up at the company. If you aren’t looking for these red flags, you’re putting the future of your company at risk.

Employees look to their leaders to set an example of work ethic and also to set the culture of the company. If you lead from a distance—otherwise known as the “invisible” CEO—and employees see themselves and their colleagues doing all of the hard work, that will be the perception of your company, whether it’s true or not.

In a recent study, 52 percent of employees reported that they believed their leaders cared about the productivity of the company over them. If you expect your employees to remain committed to your business, you need to prove that you don’t value efficiency over their well-being.

Your company may be your life, but to your employees, it’s a career. You may have built a robust enough foundation within your company where you can delegate more tasks and step back from the day-to-day routine a bit more, but make sure you pay attention to both the expectations and work you’re putting on your team. They shouldn’t be grinding away more than you are.

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