BHP boss says less is more when it comes to working hours

Nov 23, 2017

The image we often have of executive leaders is tired, overworked, and always ‘on’. But one CEO is leading by example, working shorter hours in order to be more productive.

Working more hours to impress your boss and colleagues is a common practice in the workplace with five million Australian full-time employees clocking over 40 hours a week, and 1.6 million doing more than over 50 hours per week, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

A recent ABC article explores the impact that working longer days can have on productivity outcomes and whether the added pressure, fatigue and sacrificed relationships were worth it.

Andrew Mackenzie, chief executive of BHP, revealed that the more senior he has become, the more important working fewer hours is to get the most use out of his time.

"A rested Andrew can do more in four hours than a tired Andrew can do in eight," he says.

Dr Annie McKee, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, agreed that "long hours backfire for people and for companies."

The evidence is growing that working fewer hours, but being more productive during those hours, is a far better use of our time and energy.

"Overwork sucks us into a negative spiral, causing our brains to slow down and compromising our emotional intelligence," expressed Dr McKee.

While everyone responds differently to the demands of working overtime, research has found there is a distinct tipping point – with productivity and mental health declining beyond a 39 hour work week.

Some countries have already put this idea into practice. The Washington Post reports that Denmark has a work culture where workers are not rewarded for long hours the way they are in countries like Australia.

“Here, if you can't get your work done in the standard 37 hours a week, you're seen as inefficient,” one Dane said.

So how do we restore the balance?

Dr McKee believes the key to restoring a healthy work-life balance is to work out whether the pressure to work long hours is coming from you or your boss.

Working extra hours in busy periods every now and again is sometimes a necessary part of meeting the demands of work, but if pulling big weeks at the office is the norm this may negatively impact your wellbeing.

Research has demonstrated that it is not just the amount of work that makes a difference, but also the extent to which employees have the resources to do the work well. If you’re worried about your workload or resources available to complete required duties, arrange time to speak with your manager.

Strategies may include prioritising tasks, adjusting deadlines and ensuring that the necessary time, equipment and supports are available. In some scenarios, it might also be necessary to review your role requirements and workload demands to evaluate whether work is being distributed equally.

There are also steps you can take to look after your mental health at work. Disconnecting from technology on the weekends, taking regular breaks and setting realistic goals are just a few possibilities. You can check out all our strategies for employees here.

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