How late did you work last night? Chances are the average business owner was burning the midnight oil processing payments, fulfilling orders, or tackling the never-ending pile of company-related paperwork.
- Almost three out of ten SME owners work more than 50 hours a week, according to MetLife Employee Benefits.
- About 15 per cent work more than 60 hours a week, including the weekend.
It hardly paints a healthy picture, does it? But next Wednesday business owners and their employees are being urged to think about how they balance their professional and personal commitments as part of Go Home On Time Day. The event on September 24 is part of National Work-Life Week, which itself is being organised by the charity Working Families. The organisation says that too many people work long hours without necessarily being productive. And a long-hours culture can also be damaging to the wellbeing and physical and mental health of both staff and bosses.
People who run their own business are among the worst culprits for over-working. Many would argue that they have little choice when the responsibility for getting business done falls to them. But if you or your team are constantly up against the clock, perhaps you’re not working as sensibly as you might. You may be wasting time without realising it. And being more efficient is likely to be the answer to achieving a better balance overall.
Is your business working smart – or just long?
Look at how people work in your organisation, how long they’re in the workplace, and the end result. Ask your employees – and yourself – to be honest about some key questions:
- Do you feel in control of your workload, or overwhelmed by what you have to achieve in an average day?
- Do you believe that you’re working as efficiently as you might? If not, why not?
- Does your email inbox or paperwork tray get cleared regularly, or are you constantly chasing your tail to complete work?
- Do you get distracted by non-essential tasks, or is your day taken up by things that aren’t officially part of your job description?
This kind of productivity audit should help to identify areas that need addressing and some of the possible causes of inefficient work practices. You may realise that your computer systems are slow and that an upgrade could speed up processes. Investing in new software could also introduce better systems into the business that could free up staff to put their time to better use. This might involve sharing information and documents instantaneously via the cloud, or using technology to complete projects remotely or on the move. Your conclusion may even be that you’re under-staffed, in which case you may need to think about hiring a new recruit.
Where does the time go?
If you realise that you or your workers are jumping from task to task, and that there aren’t enough hours in the day, then you may need to teach them and yourself how to prioritise jobs.
- Consider what needs to be done.
- Make a list of those tasks.
- Put them in order of importance from urgent and important, through to pressing but less important, and, finally, neither urgent nor important.
- Then, determine when and how things will be completed.
You may also realise that there are frequent interruptions in the working day that are holding people up. It may be the telephone, email, or customers dropping in. Learn how to be assertive and to handle such disruptions quickly and efficiently. And there’s every possibility that there are things in your day that could be eliminated from the work schedule altogether. Simplify wherever possible, and be honest about what you need to handle, and what is time-wasting or work avoidance.
Could flexibility be the answer?
In June this year new rules came into effect allowing all workers the right to request to work flexibly, as we’ve discussed before. So, it’s likely more SMEs will find that workers are asking to go part-time, work flexi-hours or from home for a few days a week. If you introduce some of these working practices, your enterprise could run more smoothly and have a more productive and contented workforce. Being rigid about work times can easily lead to resentment on the part of staff. In the worst cases, ill health or absence due to stress can result. But flexible working takes a lot of trust, and is a very different way of working. It requires good, honest, open communication between employer and employee. Research the options and what might work best for your organisation. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development is a good place to start, as it offers advice and tips to businesses looking to introduce flexibility into the workplace.
What about your own work-life balance?
Turn the spotlight on yourself, as the boss. Be tough about what you’re doing right, and where you might improve. If you’re working all the hours God sends, then perhaps you need to delegate some functions to a member of your team. If you think the talent isn’t present in the business to take on your responsibilities, then it may be time to hire that expertise. And be brutal with yourself about the jobs you’re not best qualified to tackle. Someone with the right skills will probably complete them better and faster.
So, lead by example next Wednesday, and make the effort to go home on time. Insist that your staff do the same, and show how much you appreciate their hard work. But don’t confine your efforts to one day. The long-term rewards of creating an environment where people work efficiently, but not excessively, could be greater motivation, improved staff retention, and a boost to productivity. And better organisation of your own work efforts could mean more time off for you, too.
Image courtesy of renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net