Do you value the employees of your small business? Then show them by stressing work-life balance

Working 11 hours a day instead of eight increases an employee’s risk of developing heart disease by 67%. Workers who work 50-plus hours a week are three times more likely to develop alcohol abuse problems. A report published by the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention and National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health revealed that 16 out of the 22 major studies surveyed associated overtime with poorer general health, increased injury rates, more illnesses, and increased mortality. Studies have also shown that unplanned absenteeism rises as worker hours rise. These are just some of the outcomes of research into the negative health effects of working long hours.

So my question today is do you encourage your employees to be workaholics by requiring long hours and demanding that they be at your beck and call via e-mail and cell phone during non-work hours, including vacations? Or do you have policies that promote work-life balance?

This topic came to mind after I read an article in the February issue of Inc., about BambooHR, a Utah company that has policies in place that take any of its 53 employees to task if they work more than 40 hours a week. That’s right; they actually punish employees who spend too much time at work. In fact, they feel so strongly about enforcing these policies that they came close to firing a repeat offender who was continually logging 70 to 80 hours a week. They told her to shape up or lose her job.

Their reasons for encouraging people to work 9 to 5? They saw the huge toll – including broken marriages and severe health consequences – that overwork took among friends and colleagues at other start-ups. And they strongly believe that productivity suffers when people spend too much time at work, a position supported by numerous researchers who have looked at the consequences of long work hours.

Many companies give lip service to the notion of work-life balance, but few have the courage to support this stance with policies that actually support people in their efforts to cut back on their work hours. A key part of this is providing employees with technology that supports productivity. The outcome, the founders of BambooHR believe, is more productive employees and a more successful company.

Now, are there circumstances where a short-term boost in hours may be required? Of course. For example, as a former event planner, I am very familiar with putting in long days right before a big client occasion. But if long hours are the norm instead of the exception for your employees, please ask yourself if this is really what’s best for your business and for your workers in the long term. Parkinson’s law, which says work expands to fill the time allotted for it, is true more often than not.

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