Experts warn encouraging a long-hours culture can lead to burnout

Workers who are most dedicated to their job and feel it is integral to their life and identity are also among the least productive, according to a new study.

Dr Michael Clinton, reader in work psychology and human resource management at King’s College London’s King’s Business School, examined the working lives of 193 Church of England ministers, who view their career as an intense calling. He discovered that they were less able to successfully disengage from work in the evenings, lowering their energy levels the following morning.

Clinton said that having an intense career calling can drive people to work longer hours, which limits their psychological detachment from work. This can, in turn, reduce sleep quality and the ability to focus, and impede both professional and personal success in the long run.

A calling produces a set of superior goals that are given higher priority over other life goals,” said Clinton. “This focus on calling-related goals can be problematic. This study has shed light on how callings may often be challenging for an individual, demanding more of them than perhaps less meaningful and consuming endeavors.”

Dr Sarah-Jane Cullinane, assistant professor in human resource management and organisational behaviour at Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin, told People Management that the findings were “very revealing but not surprising given the continuous blurring of boundaries between work and personal lives”.

Cullinane added that if managers “encourage dedication in the form of long working hours and 24/7 accessibility, and reward and promote employees on this basis”, it is inevitable they will become burnt out and unproductive. “Without taking time after work to psychologically detach, we are unable to recover from work and refuel our body and mind for the following day,” she said. “This detachment must be modelled by managers themselves for employees to feel truly safe to switch off and to prevent an overwork culture developing within the organisation.”

And Charlotte Cross, director of the Better Health at Work Alliance, said: “The most successful organisations have long known that long hours do not increase results. Unbeknown to many, there are specialist services that offer training, such as employee sleep workshops, occupational health sleep training and online sleep assessments for employees, varying from one-hour talks to full-day training.”

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) warned yesterday that it had previously overestimated the UK’s productivity, and that productivity had actually grown by just 0.2 per cent a year for the past five years. The OBR also cautioned that productivity growth would remain weak for the next five years.

Meanwhile, a study of of more than 3,000 full-time workers across Germany, France and the UK, which was published by The Workforce Institute Europe today, has revealed that UK employees are less productive than their continental peers in almost every respect, including spending more time on social media, working from home more regularly and sleeping fewer hours.


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