We have all seen them, the accolades and acknowledgements handed to those who put in the long hours, seemingly giving up their own time for the benefit of the organisation.
Similarly, we have also seen and heard less flattering comments made about the staff who start on time and “miraculously” finish on time every day.
These crude assessments of whether or not staff are good employees are surprisingly common – yet equally commonly, flawed.
There are any number of reasons why an employee would spend long hours at work, well beyond the normal expectation.
It could be the role is too big, or they are ambitious, or they want to do a particularly thorough job. Or they want to be perceived as a committed employee.
Other possibilities are that they have problems in their private life and don’t want to go home, or they waste a lot of time during the day and need extra time to catch-up. Or they are simply incompetent.
The reasons why someone would finish right on the prescribed finish time are also varied and may include both positive and negative reasons.
The key point here is that employee performance and perceptions should not be evaluated by the hours of work, but by other measures such as: work output; quality of work; willingness to collaborate with other teams; living the organisation’s values; or customer relationship management.
How long the person actually spends at the workplace is almost irrelevant.
This is even truer today with the remote access available from mobile devices. Most people in senior roles can do at least a small portion of their job remotely and therefore their physical presence in the workplace is never an accurate reflection of their contribution or commitment.
The ultra-cynical employee knows the best way to get ahead is to start work one minute before their boss arrives and leave one minute after they do. In the absence of better measures of performance it is convenient to see these employees as good, committed workers who are willing to put in the extra hours.
If an employee is genuinely finding it difficult to complete the required work in the allotted hours, then you owe them a duty of care to make sure they are either trained to speed up their work, or the role is modified.
A stress or fatigue related occupational health and safety claim will be much more costly than hiring extra staff and the cost in human terms is even greater.
Other employees will notice the level of concern you have for the person’s welfare and their judgement of you will impact their commitment in the future.
One small step in the next 24 hours
Take note of the hours of work of all your employees. Align their work output and quality to those hours of work.
Any staff member who is not producing the required performance can be managed through the normal performance management processes.
Make an appointment to meet with any staff member who is working excessive hours. Ask them to talk about the reasons for the extra hours and show your concern for their welfare.
Acknowledge that you appreciate their willingness to work extra hours but that you want to work quickly to reach a point where the additional hours are no longer required.
Ask them to suggest some things that could be changed to enable them to go home on time and you can feel free to offer suggestions as well.
If the conversation is non-judgemental and based on a concern for their welfare, it is likely to be much more open and productive.