Leaving work on time every day: is it always good?

Leaving work on time

Some jobs simply aren’t designed for you to be leaving work on time. Many salaried professions involve working long hours. It’s pretty easy to find stories of people who suffer burn out from these careers and switch to something a little less glamorous, and far less stressful.

I’ve worked in a few roles which encouraged long hours but have also worked in smaller private organisations where leaving work on time is actively encouraged. After spending a few years in consulting, I got used to working more hours than I was paid for. The opposite situation seems like some sort of heaven by comparison. You work your 8 hours and then you go home. Perfect, right?

If your employees are leaving work on time every day, what does it mean?

I find this topic interesting because at first, there seems to be a clear cut, perfect answer. Of course you want your employees leaving work on time every day. Then they won’t get burnt out, their stress levels are reduced and they can do better work.

But if they are leaving work on time every day, what does it actually mean?

If, at 5pm, for example, you pack up and go home, it means that one of the following has happened:

  1. You have finished all the work you had to do, at exactly the right time. This implies a perfect allocation of work that you are able to leave work on time while completing everything you needed to do.
  2. You haven’t finished all the work, you will have to pick it up tomorrow. This situation is common. Employees build up large to-do lists, with items that never get resolved. People continue leaving work on time because they know they can’t finish their list of tasks anyway.
  3. You had already finished all your work and were just waiting until you could leave. I’d say this is a common occurrence as well. No point in picking up extra work that could stop you leaving work on time, right?

Number 2 and 3 above are the interesting cases. Number 1 is ideally where you want to be, but having the perfect work allocation will be difficult to achieve in most workplaces.

If your team is leaving work on time every day, are they productive?

If your team is in the habit of leaving work on time every day when they haven’t finished their work, this can be a breeding ground for unmotivated employees.

Workplaces like this are common. To-do lists fill up with tasks, but only the top ones are being completed. The lower priority tasks continue to sit there, week after week. They may never be completed.

This triggers me to ask the following questions – are we doing the right work? If we have too many tasks, but many of them aren’t completed, do these tasks even matter? Are we doing things that don’t even need to be done? Do we have deadlines for this work? 

When employees are never completing their work and are faced with ever-escalating task lists, there is a good chance they will begin to lose motivation. Why should they bother working hard, when the work is never ending and they’ll never be able to complete it?

Deadlines are your friends

In an environment such as this, it can be difficult for people to be motivated. They leave work on time every day, no matter what. The work carousel just keeps on turning and the to-do list keeps piling up. Not that it matters.

Introducing deadlines is a key step in helping to motivate employees. Deadlines are effective because they signal a clear end to a piece of work. After the deadline, you shouldn’t need to work on something again (hopefully). You can tick it off and move on.

Sure, your team may not be leaving work on time every day. But in moderation, working hard to push for a deadline is a way to get your team striving for something. When you succeed, you can reward the team, for a job well done.

At first, your team will probably hate deadlines. They introduce pressure that will make them uncomfortable, because they know they are going to be held accountable for achieving something.

Deadlines signal an end to something. You can push toward a deadline, but you cannot get people to push if there is nothing at the finish line.

Your employees could leave work at 5pm, with more work to do tomorrow. Or they might leave at 6pm, with a feeling that they accomplished something. Which is better?

As with all things, balance is key. On the one hand, you don’t want your team burning out. Nor do you want them feeling like they never accomplish anything.

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