Vastly oversimplifying (and discounting benefits entirely for the moment), we compensate people based on:
- Time worked
- Results delivered
Many argue in today’s knowledge workplace, people don’t really get paid for time worked any more. While that’s valid in many cases, it’s not entirely true. How many of us in the “knowledge economy” still show up at the office because “face time” is considered more valuable than results delivered, even when that face time comes at the opportunity cost of two hours spent in traffic instead of working?
Perhaps we should be paying people to work less. Indeed, if we did, the vast majority of employees would be more productive. At least, that's what research in a New York Times article by Tony Schwartz points to:
“In most workplaces, rewards still accrue to those who push the hardest and most continuously over time. But that doesn’t mean they’re the most productive.”
In the article, Tony points to research study after research study showing our bodies function in 90 minute cycles, whether we’re awake or asleep. At night, our sleep cycles range into and out of deep sleep in 90-minute intervals. Athletes and musicians accomplish the most in practice sessions when those sessions run for 90 minutes, followed by a break.
Tony refers to these rest breaks as “renewal.” Time intervals in which our bodies, our thought processes, renew themselves and prepare for the next big push.
But this isn’t just necessary on the micro-level of 90-minute intervals. Employees who vacation more –who take longer and more frequent periods of renewal – are actually more productive. Also from the New York Times article:
“MORE vacations are similarly beneficial. In 2006, the accounting firm Ernst & Young did an internal study of its employees and found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings from supervisors (on a scale of one to five) improved by 8 percent. Frequent vacationers were also significantly less likely to leave the firm.”
Don’t worry. I’m not advocating a 35-hour work week or two months as standard vacation policy. I am arguing for building renewal into the cultural rhythm of the organization. Think for a moment about your office culture. Do employees hang out and chat while getting a cup of coffee, or do they quickly grab a cup and scurry back to their desks? Do employees gather for lunch to chat and catch up, or do they eat their sandwiches while hunched over their keyboards?
The answer to those questions often lies in the company culture – what’s expected of employees. I’m an advocate for those moments of downtime, however. I can’t count the number of terrific insights, new ideas and innovations that were first discussed over the lunch table, or during a quick walk to the coffee bar next door.
We need to consciously encourage our team members and colleagues to renew while at work. To, yes, work hard, but then take reasonable (and regular) breaks to renew, to catch up with friends and colleagues, and – yes – to innovate.
If building in periods of renewal is so beneficial, what is it about “renewal” that leaves organization leaders cold? I believe it’s because the results can be hard to measure in the short-term and the renewal itself looks a lot like slacking off.
And that’s where our measures of what we compensate come back into the conversation. Are we compensating employees for the hours (and minutes) locked at their workstations, or are we compensating them for the results delivered?
If the answer truly is the latter, than we need to find ways to free them for the renewal necessary for ever more productivity, innovation and insights at work.
Do you take “renewal” breaks? What do they look like in your organization?
As Globoforce’s Head of Strategic Consulting, Derek Irvine is an internationally minded management professional with over 20 years of experience helping global companies set a higher ambition for global strategic employee recognition, leading workshops, strategy meetings and industry sessions around the world. His articles on fostering and managing a culture of appreciation through strategic recognition have been published in Businessweek, Workspan and HR Management. Derek splits his time between Dublin and Boston. Follow Derek on Twitter at @DerekIrvine.