6 Productivity Tips That Will Also Reduce Overtime

productivity tips

This 1960s-era workplace scene seems almost utopian in 2015. A recent Gallup poll found that the average American workweek, which has traditionally been 40 hours, is now more than 47. According to Workfront CMO Joe Staples:

"That means each week, on average, we end up clocking an entire extra day of work. Salaried workers are hit the hardest, with a full 25 percent saying they log a grueling 60 hours per week, which equals working 12-hour days from Monday to Friday, or slightly shorter weekdays with much of the weekend also on the clock."

While the Obama administration is proposing to double the salary threshold for overtime this year, it doesn't change the fact that overtime has become the norm at many companies. The reasons are complex. For starters, today's employees are required to get their work done and hit reasonably set deadlines — not to simply punch an imaginary clock. Schedules are also far more flexible today than in Don Draper's era, thanks to technology. Employees check emails at home and take phone calls on their smartphones after normal work hours. According to one study, this "working-from-home" mentality added up to a month and a half of overtime a year.

"For some industries — such as finance, tech or marketing — overtime is almost seen as a badge of honor," says Staples. "If you aren't pulling 60-, 70-, or 80-hour weeks, you aren't considered to be working hard enough, and you could be replaced by someone else who will."

Debunking the Overtime Myth

Does all of that overtime really lead to more productivity? Study after study after study says no. One study even found that a 10-percent increase in overtime reduces productivity by 2.4 percent.

"The small bump in extra output you might achieve by burning the midnight oil is oftentimes more than offset by your decreased energy for the rest of the week," says Staples. "We all know that the occasional overtime crunch session is necessary to make a deadline or deliver a product on time, but the sustained reliance on excessive employee overtime is really a reflection of poor management and isn't sustainable by employees."

An April 2015 Workfront study supports this view. Poor work-life balance can often have costly results for employees (and their employers), including lowered morale, burnout, high turnover and poor productivity.

Some companies have discovered that their employees spent so much time on emails, meetings, and organizational activities—such as manual reporting systems—that they lost vital work hours.

One Silicon Valley consulting firm, in fact, found that they were generating nearly 3,700 emails and draining 8,000 work hours annually from their 228 employees. They are not alone. ATB Financial, an Alberta-based financial institution and the ninth largest bank in Canada, found that manual reporting and disjointed systems were causing not just headaches for the 25 employees on their Creative Center team, but increased work hours.

"Projects could miss their deadlines, and then there was a lot of sweat, blood and overtime just trying to catch up," recalls Bill Gattinger, senior manager overseeing traffic, production, and direct marketing at ATB Financial.

How to Cut Back on Overtime and Increase Productivity

What can companies do to reduce overtime and maximize productivity during normal business hours? How can employees better manage their time in the office and improve their work-life balance? These six productivity tips are a great place to start:

1. Ease back on meetings

Even though team meetings can be helpful, they may not always be the best use of employees' time. We've all been in the meeting that lasts an hour, with each person presenting a few minutes of project status updates…and then spend the rest of the time on their phone. But your company—and more problematically, your employees—just lost a good chunk of their workday that could have been spent accomplishing real work. Instead of relying exclusively on status meetings, make better use of digital work management, task management or shared project-tracking tools with automated communication.

2. Watch your team's utilization rates

As a manager, you want to have insight into your team's bandwidth. But how do you know if your team is working as efficiently as they could? If they are working overtime, do you know why? Implement a system to measure staff utilization rates to see just how effectively their time is spent. If you can see everything every member of your team is working on, you can see how much work they have on their plate and will be careful not to overtask them. You'll also be able to ensure that your resource allocation is fully optimized.

3. Establish your overtime policy

As a manager, you can control how much overtime your team works by putting specific policies in place that emphasize work-life balance. Allowing flexible work schedules, remote working and unlimited paid time off are all effective ways to give your employees a greater sense of control over where and when they work. Without them, your employees may automatically default to a workaholic mindset and assume that working longer hours will lead to promotions, increased compensation and better job security overall.

4. Give employees the right tools to work efficiently

Tools like email, enterprise social platforms and spreadsheets are perfect for communication and budget management — but inefficient when it comes to assigning tasks, tracking project status and accessing information required to do the job. Instead, give your team a system for work planning and work management that not only makes assigning and managing tasks easier, but also allows you to provide the details for a project up front and in one place. Features such as automation of communication and reporting save employees major time because no extra hours are needed to maintain spreadsheets or follow email. (Of course, this is easier said than done for smaller teams; for larger teams, it's practically a necessity).

5. Allow flexible work schedules

With cloud-based tools, it's a lot easier to give employees the option of working more flexible hours, since they can log in from anywhere to access work information. If an employee needs to take time off to care for a sick child or to attend a family event, allow it — but remind the employee that it's a two-way street. If you need the employee to put in some extra time to hit a deadline, he or she should expect to return the favor. After all, it's not so much about how many hours you log in, but about how effectively you accomplish your tasks.

6. Lead by example

Employees who see their managers working excessive overtime will naturally think they are expected to do the same. This sets up a pattern of inefficiency, overwork and burnout all-around. Instead, proactively discuss overtime policies and expectations with your employees, and ask managers and supervisors to model good behavior, too. Discourage them from responding to or sending non-critical emails late at night or on weekends, and encourage them to fully unplug during PTO.

We may never return to the traditional 40-hour workweek, à la Don Draper. But with the right tools and strategies in place, employees can work more effectively in the office rather than out of the office. Let's turn back the clock on overtime and turn workaholics into well-balanced workers.