The culture of working to excess has fallen out of favour with many employers. The new theory is that people increase productivity by working fresher rather than longer.
Gordon Gekko, the fictional, fast-talking corporate raider in the 1987 film Wall Street, famously said that “lunch is for wimps”. Gordon, like many of the real corporate characters of his era, ran on the principle that hard work equalled good work and the longer the hours the better.
He would have baulked at the idea of not working on weekends and, given his views on a quick sandwich break, probably would have fired anyone requesting a holiday.
But, views and standards change.
Google, for example, allows its employees to dedicate 20 percent of their time to their own projects. They also have “sleep pods” in their offices, allowing staff to take naps during the day so that they can refresh themselves.
Netflix, the movie streaming site, gives its staff unlimited holidays, allowing them to take as much paid time off as they want.
For smaller businesses, these ideas are unlikely to be practical. But, the principle of keeping staff refreshed can still be applied, even by those that have not quite let go of their inner Gekko.
At its most basic, requirements under modern awards and the National Employment Standards for maximum working hours, rest breaks and leave should be complied with.
Beyond that, all staff should be encouraged to switch off from work whenever they can, literally and metaphorically.
Checking Blackberries, iPhones and other devices can start to dominate lives seven days a week, even on holidays. If staff use these devices, they should be encouraged to put them down when not working and, at minimum, for a day a week.
Keeping the mind free from thoughts of work for a day a week will help keep staff invigorated and reduce the chance of burn out.
Staff should also be encouraged to take their leave (having it accrue on the balance sheet is not helping anyone). Additional leave might also be an option. This should not be providing time off in lieu of working additional hours, which simply maintains a culture of working longer rather than smarter.
Instead, leave can be used to reward good work, such as achieving KPIs. This could be as simple as putting some formal structure to existing policies such as letting staff leave early when they have completed their tasks for the day.
Be careful though, using leave as an incentive could end up being discriminatory.
It could be shown, for example, that younger staff are more capable of completing work quickly and that allowing them to leave early therefore discriminates against older staff for a reason relating to their age.
But, assuming this minefield can be navigated, a well-rested team will soon help increase productivity and reduce the chance of burnout.