Americans are working more hours than ever before, leaving many overstretched and overstressed.

According to a report by the Center for American Progress, American families are working an average of 11 hours more per week than they did in 1979. Among all income sectors, highly skilled and well-compensated professionals have seen the sharpest increase in their working hours.

The report states that working mothers who make over $148,000 per year, “are roughly twice as likely as middle-income mothers to work 50-plus hours per week.”

Challenging the “Macho Work Culture”

In an opinion piece on the Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington calls into question the benefits these extreme hours offer for both employer and employee. She writes:

“The culture of ‘time macho’ — a relentless competition to work harder, stay later, pull more all-nighters, travel around the world and bill the extra hours that the international date line affords you — remains astonishingly prevalent among professionals today.”

Huffington goes on to detail the enormous health risks that come with working too many hours including a higher rate of heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and eating disorders. But the damage is not just to the health of the overstretched worker, it extends to their families as well. Huffington writes:

“By sacrificing our families — and by extension, ourselves — on the altar of our careers, we are in danger of cutting ourselves off from our own wisdom and perspective — the very qualities that are so lacking in our macho work culture.”

Results-Only Work Environment

Very few workers would disagree with Huffington, but in a depressed economy, with job insecurity always looming, no one wants to look like they are not pulling their weight.

In a recent New York Times’ piece, Bob Pozen, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, paints a familiar scenario:

“It’s 5 p.m. at the office. Working fast, you’ve finished your tasks for the day and want to go home. But none of your colleagues have left yet, so you stay another hour or two, surfing the Web and reading your e-mails again, so you don’t come off as a slacker.”

Pozen contends that judging workers on the number of hours they are at the office no longer makes sense for knowledge workers. He writes:

“If employees need to stay late in order to curry favor with the boss, what motivation do they have to get work done during normal business hours? After all, they can put in the requisite ‘face time’ whether they are surfing the Internet or analyzing customer data. It’s no surprise, then, that so many professionals find it easy to procrastinate and hard to stay on a task. There is an obvious solution here: Instead of counting the hours you work, judge your success by the results you produce.”

The idea of judging the success of employees by their results came to Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler when they were working at Best Buy in HR. They were tasked with creating a flexible work strategy at the company, but realized that giving some workers flextime without extending it to others was creating tension among co-workers.

Thompson and Ressler came up with a model called Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), in which workers were given full control of their own schedules as long as they met the goals and deadlines they had established with their boss.

ROWE can be boiled down into a simple tenet: “Every person can do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done.”

The program was a big hit with Best Buy employees. A University of Minnesota study found that ROWE reduced work-family conflict and reduced turnover by 45%.

Three Time Saving Tips

As Best Buy struggles to remain competitive, some have pointed to ROWE as one factor behind the company’s inability to keep up with its more innovative online competitors. Whether ROWE has been beneficial or detrimental for Best Buy doesn’t change the fact that a results-only work environment is a progressive idea that has a lot of appeal for today’s overstretched worker.

Pozen, an advocate of a more results-based work environment, has three tips to help workers stop wasting valuable time and energy in the office. He writes in The New York Times:

  1. LIMIT MEETINGS: “Try very hard to avoid meetings that you suspect will be long and unproductive. When possible, politely decline meeting invitations from your peers by pointing to your impending deadlines.”
  2. REDUCE READING: “You don’t need to read the full text of everything you come across in the course of your work, even if it comes directly from the boss.”
  3. WRITE FASTER: “First, compose an outline for what you are going to say, and in what order. Then write a rough draft, knowing it will be highly imperfect. Then go back over your work and revise as needed. This is the time to perfect the phrasing of those sentences.”
A major part of ROWE’s appeal is that it empowers workers by giving them control of their time and their efforts. Even if your company ascribes more to the “macho work culture” than the flextime culture, by increasing your own efficiency and productivity while  continually communicating your explicit goals and achievements with your superiors, you will gain more freedom at work and better control over your time.

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