Thanks to the pandemic and a general shift in working culture, many workers spend more time out of the office than ever before. Some companies are focused on returning to the office as quickly as possible, while others embrace the change to provide their teams with unprecedented freedoms.
Whether you work on-site or have the opportunity to get the job done from anywhere you see fit, this shift has raised numerous questions around working habits and the work-life balance. If your employees are returning to the office, they might have developed new habits that don’t necessarily suit sitting at a desk for four hours at a time on either side of a lunch break.
One challenge for managers is that what was previously the norm isn’t necessarily standard anymore. Workers that were happy to spend their days at their desk previously now know for sure that they don’t have to demonstrate that level of commitment to get the work done. In some cases, they might not even need to be in the office for entire days, and efforts to force them to do so might be bad for morale.
Typical Productivity in a Working Day
The typical workday lasts for around eight hours. However, even the most optimistic managers understand that not every minute of the day will be productive. Research suggests that the average worker is effective for just under three hours each day. What undoubtedly infuriates some managers is that those same average workers take almost as long in breaks each day too!
This isn’t a case of lazy workers. Intensive, focused work takes its toll. Even with the best will in the world, an expert at something cannot produce their best work for more than around four hours each day. Mental energy is a thing, just like its physical counterpart, and while there are ways to boost energy levels throughout the day, there are always limits.
Should This Lead to a Reduction in Office Time?
The numbers don’t appear to add up. Why spend eight hours in the office when fewer than half of those hours will end up being productive? There’s more to consider than the numbers alone.
Not everything that takes place in an office job requires 100% mental focus. Meetings, admin, research, and all sorts of other things take time, but not necessarily a lot of energy. Science suggests that the average workday should be around six hours in length, which fits well with the idea of three to four hours of focus. It then leaves a couple of hours to tidy up loose ends, check emails and do the supplementary tasks required to get a job done.
The US is vastly different from most other countries in the world in that there are no federal or state minimums for vacation days, and they are always given to employees at the employer’s discretion. However, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be used – the average employee with a year in a position receives ten paid vacation days each year, rising to 14 for those that have been with a company for five years.
If you’re in a position to determine how much time people spend in the office and how many vacation days they receive each year, it’s worth keeping in mind that 13 workdays are considered the sweet spot.
Of course, this doesn’t just apply to employees. You’re only human too. Sure, you might be the business owner, overseeing everything that goes on in the company from top to bottom. Letting go can be the most challenging aspect of any early career, even temporarily. However, while you might describe yourself as a workaholic, you’re every bit as susceptible to burnout as anyone else. Therefore, all the information in this article applies just as much to you as everyone else in the business.
Identifying When It’s Time to Take a Break
It’s an excellent idea to schedule vacations and plan time off into your routine – and those of your employees. Knowing that there’s something to look forward to whereby you can focus on anything but work can provide a boost in its own right.
However, while schedules and routines are essential in the business and wellness worlds, there should always be room for unplanned opportunities to step away.
Do you find yourself experiencing the following at work?
- Taking more sick days due to random illnesses
- A lack of motivation and energy at work
- Difficulty concentrating on the task at hand
- Spending more time in the office than you do at home
They’re all signs that it might be time to shut down for a while. Keep a few vacation days free to relax and recharge if these issues arise. If you’re the boss, and you can come and go as you please, remember not to put the company’s well-being ahead of your own. It might be difficult to admit, but a tired, irritable version of yourself might do more harm than good.
If you value your leadership skills, you can also take part in ensuring that your team is in as good a place as possible. It can be challenging to broach the subject if one of your employees seems to be underperforming or zoned out. Remember that it’s often just as difficult for them to tell you they’re having trouble. On balance, it’s often easier to lead that conversation, and there can be numerous benefits.
Just as your office might perform better without you when you’re under par, the same can be said of employees. Paid time off can give them the chance to refresh their approach and deal with whatever is getting them down. As a result, they’ll return happier and more productive and far fonder of their boss than they might have been previously.
As a young leader, you have the opportunity to break with tradition. You already know that “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is rarely a valid explanation for something. That extends to the concepts of eight-hour days and five-day workweeks.
Measure success with data and happiness rather than time spent. Remote workers have been getting the job done without setting foot in the office at all, so don’t feel like someone’s salary is a direct exchange for their time.
If you can guide others to be their best and look after yourself in the process, you’ll experience actual results with a direct impact on your company’s success.