2 Cents: Love your job, but don’t forget to live your life

Is it myopic for managers to continue to use the willingness to work extra hours as a benchmark to assess the performances of employees?
By: | March 21, 2024

You have had a long and hard day at work and can finally sit down with your family for a well-deserved dinner.

Or so you thought. The ringing of your mobile phone shatters the bliss, with your manager asking for a report to be sent before the night is over. Indignant and protective of your personal time, you decline and say you will send the report the next working day.

For employees in Australia, this scenario may become reality when a soon-to-be-passed legislation provides the “right to disconnect”, and employers may be penalised by the Fair Work Commission if they consistently and unreasonably contact employees beyond their designated working hours.

While it is arguably difficult to see similar laws passed – and regulated – in overworked countries such as Singapore and Japan, where employees “voluntarily” work overtime hours or keep themselves perpetually connected to work out of fear of losing their jobs or career advancement opportunities, it is perhaps worth asking: Are such laws necessary?

To put things into perspective, employees who have been given reasonable time to complete a task or project should be expected to do exactly that. Unless there are clear mitigating circumstances, it is hardly amiss for managers to be pushing these employees to fulfil their job responsibilities.

The conundrum arises when the opposite holds true.

For employees who conscientiously carry out their job duties to a consistently high standard, it is fair to expect them to be taking on extra duties on a regular basis, often at short notice? Is it myopic, or even irrelevant, for managers to continue to use the willingness to work extra hours as a benchmark to assess the performances of employees?

Instead, managers who question employees’ commitment to their employers because of a perceived unwillingness to devote time beyond their designated working hours should ask themselves: Are you committed to ensuring the wellbeing of your employees?

After all, the “right to disconnect” law in Australia was born out of a desire to improve the work-life balance of employees, as Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese described, “What we are simply saying is that someone who isn’t being paid 24 hours a day shouldn’t be penalised if they’re not online and available 24 hours a day.”

With recessions in Japan and the UK raising fears that these merely represent the tip of the iceberg for a difficult 2024 ahead, plans by many employees to seek alternative employment opportunities may be shelved – for now.

However, that does not necessarily imply that all employees do not remain committed to their current jobs. With the right support and recognition system in place, many employees will continue to bring their best self to work every day. What they are less keen to do perhaps, is to consistently perform work shifts in excess of 12 hours when they have already reasonably delivered on their obligations.

Burnout is real, as the recent resignation of Jurgen Klopp, the manager of Liverpool Football Club, has demonstrated. After almost nine hugely successful years at the helm, the affable and infectiously passionate German has announced that he would be stepping down from his role in May.

His reason? A dwindling reserve of energy and a desire to live a “normal life” beyond the glare and pressure of being the manager of one of the biggest sporting institutions in the world.

For most of us, our jobs are unlikely to thrust us into the public spotlight as prominently as that of a football manager’s; neither are we likely to be as handsomely remunerated.

What this analogy highlights however, is the very threat of employee wellbeing continuing to diminish if left unchecked.

READ MORE: Why employees should disconnect from work, and feel good about it

Managers need to start relooking at the workflows and structures that are currently in place and question if they are detrimental to employee wellbeing. For instance, why is there a consistent backlog of work and are managers inadvertently pushing more tasks to certain employees simply because they are more capable of doing them, or are simply less likely to say no?

Organisations can thrive with a healthy and productive workforce, and employees can be supported in achieving an optimal work-life balance; neither are mutually exclusive. So, the next time you want to send out an email or message on Teams beyond designated working hours, you may want to think again.