Why I Tell My Team to Leave at 5:00

I read Kevin Sandhu’s article “How I get my employees to work 80 hours a week” with interest, the provocative title catching my attention. I can relate to the world he describes, as we too are looking to make significant change in the industry we are in. We too have a passionate team hell-bent on putting a dent in the universe. But building a company is a marathon, not a sprint.

In the process of building 2 companies from the ground up, we’ve experienced employee burnout first-hand. At times when we pushed people too hard, things fell apart and the whole company suffered as a result. We learned that to win the long game, we needed to either adjust timelines, grow the team or face shipping a sub-par product.

In the startup world, particularly when you are funded, there is massive pressure to hit results. I understand how this leads to thinking you need to work all hours of the day and weekend to get there. But working harder does not equate to working smarter, and at some point the team collapses.

Countless studies have demonstrated that the brain needs rest to function optimally. The inverse productivity curve, where the quality of code decreases with the number of hours a developer works, is a well known concept in the software world. Our software directly impacts the financial operations of a company so we can’t afford to make mistakes. We need our developers to be fresh and write bug-free code.

Building a high impact company requires huge amounts of innovation and creativity. Every role in the organization needs to be creative. Developers need to come up with creative and elegant solutions to architecture and code challenges. Marketers need creative solutions to build the funnel. Sales people need creativity to convince customers to buy. Even finance needs creativity to deal with the challenge of cash pressures. This kind of thinking only happens when the mind has time and space to come up with innovative approaches.

We have seen firsthand that our team brings far more to the table when they have downtime and come back to the office refreshed. The interests they pursue outside of work include spending time with family, playing sports, writing a book, playing in a band, baking cakes, designing clothes and contributing to open source projects. All of these aspects of their personal lives are what make them interesting people and make them better at what they do in our companies.

Finally, what drives results is a culture of performance and accountability, not how many hours you put in. Working 80 hours a week should not be viewed as a badge of honour, it should be a warning that things can be done more efficiently.

I wish Mr. Sandhu success. Canada needs as many startups as possible building disruptive and innovative businesses, especially in banking. What Canada needs more are companies that will survive the 90% failure rate of startups. This requires building long term sustainable teams and creating environments that attract top talent. This is the way we will drive the innovation economy in Canada and build $100M+ companies and a thriving ecosystem.

Catherine Graham is the CEO of commonsku, a business management platform for the promotional products industry, and President of RIGHTSLEEVE, a promotional marketing agency based in Toronto.

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