Businesses need to start talking about the expectations they have of employees with regard to hours, or they risk over-burdening staff with unnecessary work which can lead to a lack of sleep and serious mental health issues.
These are the findings of a new report by The Australia Institute, in support of Go Home On Time Day, a national movement on November 20 designed to have staff actually leave work on time rather than stick around being unproductive.
But The Australia Institute executive director Richard Denniss told SmartCompany the report is more focused on creating conversations many small business owners don’t bother thinking about at all.
“It’s important to highlight we’re not talking about ‘national leave at five day’, we’re saying it’s important for everybody to have a good sense of what is expected of them,” he says.
A lack of expectations is what leads to people being unproductive, he says. If staff have established outcomes and expectations, leaving on time isn’t an issue. But if they have an unclear view of when they can or shouldn’t head home, it may lead to them putting in extra hours without doing any extra work.
Business owners often struggle with this concept. After all, they work on their businesses for often up to 16 or even 18 hours a day. Why can’t everyone just work the same hours as they do?
But Denniss says employers need to take a more realistic approach. Instead, he says, staff should know what is expected of them – at that point, specific hours of the day become less relevant.
“I think most people expect and accept the modern labour market is really a lot more flexible than it used to be, but flexible doesn’t mean hanging around until eight to look good.
“In turn, if businesses want to recruit and retain their best staff, the best way to retain them is to have conversations about this, and to make sure people know they can leave when things are quieter. Flexibility cuts both ways.”
The early findings of the upcoming report show 25% of those who feel “overworked” experience anxiety, and 3.3 million “overworked” Australians experience a loss of sleep.
These are all issues affecting productivity, Denniss says, and makes a key point – the hours you work are not necessarily connected to how productive you can be.
“If someone doesn’t know what time they need to knock off work, and neither does anyone else, that is very much an issue for everyone whether they’re business owners or otherwise.
“That’s the worst experience for managers – you need to have a clear view of what is expected of both employees and yourself as a business owner.”