How many hours should I work?

Although my company talks a good talk on work-life balance, there is clearly
an unspoken view by the board that the ‘serious’ managers are those that work
50 or 60 hours a week. Personally I am quite happy to work long hours, but as
an HR manager I feel I should set a good example. Any advice?

Claire Coldwell, consultant, Chiumento

As an HR manager, your role is to ensure the company operates legally and
that appropriate HR policies are devised and used.

Most people who are enthused about their work are happy to work long hours,
but no-one likes to be taken for granted, or see people being promoted simply
for working unreasonable hours. In the long term, morale takes a dive and
people leave.

What is important is to be seen to work effectively. No-one is fooled by
unproductive people staying late into the evening, and the board needs to be
made aware of that.

Is the policy appropriate if it is being ignored at senior level?
Investigate the reasons for this happening – are people unable to delegate? Are
people inadequately skilled? Does the nature of your business mean that long
hours are frequently necessary? Whether it is a training, recruitment or
cultural issue, you, as HR manager, are accountable.

It is not enough to simply provide a good example – your role is to
challenge if policy is not working in practice.

Suzanne Taylor, HR consultant, Macmillan Davies Hodes

Your company is certainly not alone in its attitude to long hours, despite
having the best intentions to encourage its employees to take a balanced
approach. As a recent article in Personnel Today pointed out, the UK tops the
list of the longest working hours in Europe. Working time legislation has so
far failed to significantly change attitudes to the long-hours culture and in
reality this won’t happen until examples are set at the most senior levels of

Having said this, there are times when it can be healthier to work long
hours – avoiding the stress caused if tasks are rushed through or not
completed. There are many who may be labelled as ‘workaholics’ but who do find
immense satisfaction from a long day’s work.

You cannot take the weight of responsibility for your own company’s approach
to long hours, and it is not your responsibility to make others change the pace
of their work or decide whether or not they are happy to stay late.

However, it is sensible and wise to set a good example. Perhaps you could
make a point by leaving the office on time at least occasionally, or to take a
full hour for lunch once in a while.

Peter Sell, joint managing director, DMSConsultancy

There seems to be an issue here that goes deeper than just work-life
balance. Your comments on what the board says and what they expect demonstrates
a lack of clear direction from a people management viewpoint. Your role is to
influence good people management policies, not support poor working practices.

Working 50 to 60 hours per week has been shown to cause stress. Also, there
is research that clearly demonstrates long hours result in a drop in
performance. This message needs to be put across to the board. Look for
evidence such as turnover figures, higher than average sickness and quality
issues to make your point. It might be interesting to question your own values
– why are you happy to work such long hours?

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