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Workaholic culture: Why it doesn’t work, how to fix it


Workaholism is a greater problem than many business leaders realize. And a workaholic culture can be even more problematic, draining workplace morale and reducing overall productivity.

Feeling skeptical? Think that your long work hours – and those of your team – are actually worthwhile?

Let’s take a closer look.

What the research shows

Since Henry Ford first studied what constituted the most productive work-week, studies have shown that anything more than 40 hours, worked consistently, isn’t productive at all.

Still not sold?

Researchers at Stanford University found:

  • Total output produced during a 60-hour week was actually less than the total output produced in a 40-hour week.
  • Productivity during 60 hour weeks was less than two-thirds of what it was when 40 hour weeks were worked.
  • Overworked employees may be substantially less productive at all hours of the work day, and that average productivity decreases enough that additional hours provide no benefit and, in fact, are detrimental.
  • After a certain number of hours (or, perhaps, the last day of the week) an employee may be so tired that additional work performed leads to mistakes and oversights that take longer to fix than the additional hours worked.

These findings apply across all industries and types of jobs. Mind, we’re not talking about the occasional 60-hour week but month-after-month of long hours.

Combatting workaholism

So, how does a business owner or leader transform a workaholic culture? Often it begins by looking at one’s own behaviors. After all, employees tend to follow the model set by management.

Whether you take pride in your workaholism or simply have slipped into bad habits, it’s important to find a way to dial back your hours. What can you do to institute more reasonable and productive hours?

It takes time and practice, of course, to change a workaholic culture. Yet your ultimate goal should be to work through the following actionable steps to reduce your workweek – and that of your team – to something closer to 40 hours.

Know your weak spots

Again, the first step to backing off your 50-, 60- and 70-hour weeks is to know thyself. Acknowledge that consistent overtime isn’t healthy, for employees or the company.

Do you get sucked into your email box, telephone calls, texts or meetings? It may be that your need to stay connected or be in every meeting is perfectionism gone awry.

Or, maybe you need to work more efficiently. Many of the ways to reduce your work hours require time management. Some commonly adopted time management techniques include:

  • Schedule time on your calendar to plan your day or week. Take an hour first thing every morning to plan and prioritize your day, then work the plan.
  • Put time on your calendar for answering email or returning telephone calls. Treat this time like a meeting, with specific start and stop times. Do what you can during this set time, then move on to other aspects of your work. Remember, you don’t have to answer every call, text or email right away.
  • Prioritize meetings. Decide if you really have to attend every meeting to which you are invited. Ask yourself: Will attending this meeting bring value to my work? Maybe you and a coworker can divide and conquer by attending alternate meetings and reporting back.
  • If someone calls or comes into your office when you have limited time, let the person know you have 5 or 10 minutes before your next meeting or next task.
  • If you consistently take time away from your family for work, consider adding family time to your calendar and treat that time as important a priority as a meeting with your leadership team.
  • Are you booking yourself into meetings all day? It’s not realistic to think you can attend meetings all day without a break to coach employees, answer emails, analyze data or write reports. Recognize that you need to build time into your day for interruptions.

It will take time to find what works for you. Give it time. Also, consider that time management techniques that worked for you at one company or in one job may not work for your entire career. Be open to trying something new.

Tap your brain trust

Start a conversation, up and down the management ladder, and ask others what they think can be eliminated from your day. Some options to consider:

  • Is there some task or process that can be streamlined? Eliminated?
  • Does the company need to invest in updated software or apps to increase efficiency?
  • Would flexible hours or the opportunity to work remotely help improve productivity?
  • Are there any meetings that could be eliminated, shortened or reduced in frequency?
  • Is it time to hire more permanent staff?
  • If the long hours are seasonal or temporary, could contract workers provide needed relief for you or your team?

Changing habits can be hard. Should your commitment wane, remember that if you or your team is consistently stretched and putting in 50 to 70 hours a week, burnout will happen, productivity will fall and turnover likely increase. That’s no good for the company, your team or you.

Change expectations

When you were always in the office, people became accustomed to coming to you for answers or help. As you cut back your hours, it will take time for your team to understand that you aren’t available 24/7.

You can retrain employees to depend upon others with simple redirects, such as: “I’m heading to my son’s baseball game, but Sharon can help you with that.” Or “I’ve got to get this report finished for the board, so try Mac. He’s our in-house expert on the payroll system.”

Don’t think of these redirects as shirking your responsibilities. To be a truly effective leader, you need to let your employees take on more responsibility.

Looking for a few more ways to expand your leadership know-how? Get a copy of our free e-book, How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business.