The Harvard Business Review recently produced two articles related to the frantic pace of work that appears to be the “new normal.” The Acceleration Trap by Heike Bruch and Jochen I. Menges and The Productivity Myth by Tony Schwartz illustrate a growing problem. The ever-accelerating push for higher productivity, 24-hour accessibility, rapid-fire systems change and increasing complexity combine to produce employees who may appear to be unmotivated and listless. In reality, they’re sleep-deprived, strangers at home and less productive with every passing hour.
What can leaders do if they suspect their organization is over-accelerated? Break the cycle by facing these realities:
Acceleration is a problem with dire consequences. Over-taxed employees can’t maintain quality and safety indefinitely. A constantly frantic pace means that employees are continually shifting from one urgent priority to another, so they lack time to recharge. It may seem like your people are getting more done, when in reality they’re just putting in more hours.
You can break free. The Acceleration Trap gives many examples of companies that stopped the madness. Tough decisions and vigilance are required. It can be easy to fall back into old habits of saying yes when you should be saying no, so put measures in place to monitor decision-making, priorities and work load.
It’s not just about making your people happy. It’s about their brains operating properly. Tony Schwarz talks about how working at full throttle all the time your “prefrontal cortex shuts down in fight or flight, your perspective narrows, and your primitive instincts take over.” Think about the quality of decision-making that happens on an adrenalin high!
Your organization can still thrive. You might feel that you’re sacrificing productivity if you slow things down. Wrong. More work isn’t better. The right work is better, and everything else is just a distraction.
Working insane hours seems to be equated with commitment and drive – and the more crazy the hours, the more motivated (and promotable) you think you are. As The Productivity Myth blog post points out, it’s time for people to be measured not by how many hours they work, but by the results they deliver.
In the immortal words of Dilbert, “In Japan, employees occasionally work themselves to death. It’s called Karoshi. I don’t want that to happen to anybody in my department. The trick is to take a break as soon as you see a bright light or hear dead relatives beckon.”
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