The countries performing the highest have the shortest workdays. Seven countries among those with the highest GDP rank have the fewest working hours. They include Luxembourg, then Norway, Switzerland, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden. We still live in a culture of bragging about how hard we work and how little we sleep to work. But bragging is actually a sign that you are not performing. Work, work, work is correlated with lower performance. So, what does wellbeing have to do with productivity? Everything.
There are numerous studies that show the impact of adequate sleep over a period of time on physical performance. In a study appearing in SLEEP, Cheri Mah, a researcher in the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory, showed that basketball players at the elite college level were able to improve their on-the-court performance by increasing their amount of total sleep time. Those players who got more sleep saw their free-throw shooting go up by 9 percent and their three-point shooting go up by 9.2 percent.
But what about mental performance? Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos explains: “Making a small number of key decisions well is more important than making a large number of decisions. If you shortchange your sleep, you might get a couple of extra ‘productive’ hours, but that productivity might be an illusion. When you’re talking about decisions and interactions, quality is usually more important than quantity.”
In a 2015 interview, LinkedIn’s Chief Human Resource Officer, Pat Wadors tells us: “Trust me, it’s not a badge of honor to brag that you can get by on 4 hours or 5 each night…You intimate that with fewer hours ‘wasted on sleep’ you are more productive. Nope. Can’t buy that. When you brag about that, you are telling me that it’s ok for you to harm your health and not perform your best at work or at home. Is that something to brag about?” (in Huffington: 2016). Good cognitive functioning, including decision making under conditions of uncertainty, are directly correlated to sleep (Killgore, Balkin, Wesensten: 2006). Good cognitive function is critical for good leadership and performance. Arianna Huffington (2017) argues, “If performance at your job or in your life involves focus, attention, decision-making, productivity, creativity, resilience or learning, sleep can be just as effective as a performance enhancer in your life.”
Sleep is but just one part to wellbeing. In the Training Journal, Derek Mowbray adds, “The ingredients for feeling well are clustered around having a purpose in life, feeling personal success and happiness in relation to a number of key elements — relationships, resources, the environment, personal growth, personal control and other items that individuals feel are important to them,” and adds, “if [people] cannot focus and concentrate on completing a task, they are not performing effectively.”
In addition to her own in-depth research, Caroline Mbaabu cites numerous studies conducted in workplaces to track the performance of individuals who engaged in workplace wellness activities and found that “that majority of employees who participated in physical fitness programmes had above average performance, lower rates of absenteeism, higher commitment to work, and lower employee turnover” (p. 15). Some of her research showed enormous increases in performance. According to Mowbay, the link between wellbeing and performance is that people who feel well usually feel in control of themselves and so it’s the attitude that determines the level of performance.
But people who are also results-oriented, instead of simply being “busy”, have the greatest results. According to Benjamin Hardy, the concept is simple: “Intensive activity followed by high quality rest and recovery.” That means that when you focus on the goal and do what you need to in order to reach that goal in intensive spurts, you get more done than if you drag tasks out throughout the day with lower intensity.
And there is critical dimension to productivity — creativity. Creativity doesn’t happen by working long hours to get through tasks and figure things out, but instead requires those spaces in between for the brain to wander and the person to reflect. A key strategy that supports wellbeing and performance is to work in spurts of intensive concentration and take full permission to enjoy down time. Hardy adds, “when you’re working, be at work. When you’re not working, stop working. By taking your mind off work and actually recovering, you’ll get creative breakthroughs related to your work.”
In the Harvard Business Review, Ron Friedman says we need to reframe why we are disengaging at the end of the day. He explains, it’s much like exercise where we are doing something that is not just for your own personal, selfish benefit, but rather something that can help us be more effective at work. He emphasizes that the people who don’t disengage, the people who are constantly checking their emails on evenings and on weekends, are the ones who tend to be less engaged a year later — because they’re burnt out.
Hardy also points out: “what you do outside work is just as significant for your work-productivity as what you do while you’re working.” While leaders can build supports within the workplace, they can also work towards building the right mindset and culture supportive of wellbeing that the individual takes outside of work, too. In his TED talk, Stuart Brown refers to a large body of literature on the role play has on the brain and performance. But for wellbeing to really become a value, one would need to practice wellbeing in and outside the work environment.
So, how do we ensure that rounded approach to wellbeing and get on target with performance goals in the workplace? One key form is creating a shared understanding of the benefits of wellbeing not only to one’s own life but to the enhancement of those one shares one’s life with, one’s team, and the good of one’s whole organization. Hence, another key includes the supports that an organization can create for everyone to practice wellbeing, and the supports that must necessarily be put in place beyond organizational policies. Here is where the ‘buddy system’ can help. Where employees are on board with buddying up with a co-worker and commit to championing each other towards greater wellbeing, the program has a greater chance of success.
Changing organizational culture is one of the hardest tasks for any leader. But when we have a shared understanding of what wellbeing means to us as a collective in an organization, and have critical social supports in place, including policies and things like a ‘buddy system,’ we can be well placed to keep disciplined in reaching and maintaining wellbeing as a value system. All cultures are based on value systems and to create change in any value system takes a common framework, institutional and social support and discipline until wellbeing is an intrinsic value.
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“The world’s most productive countries also have the lowest workdays” (April 2016), https://news.fastcompany.com/the-worlds-most-productive-countries-also-have-the-shortest-workdays-4016006