Laura Johnson on why we need to take a stand against longer hours

I’m working long hours at the moment. I’m sure I’m not the only one. A new project means I’ve taken on a little more than I can manage in the standard working week. But the opportunity was too exciting to resist and I justified it as a short-term sacrifice of time for a far greater professional gain. But three weeks from completion of this venture, I’m concerned my energy levels are starting to flag. And with so much still to achieve, that’s simply not going to do.

The crux of the problem for me is it doesn’t feel like the extra unsociable hours I’m investing are necessarily reflected in a proportionate increase in my output levels. Research by the Smith Institute, a UK thinktank, backs up my experience, with more than two-thirds of employees admitting they’re working longer hours than two years ago, but only 10% believing they’re more productive as a result. I’m arriving at my desk tired, working reactively and buzzing as much with anxiety as exhilaration. And as a result, I feel my productivity is downward spiralling with the worst possible timing - every day ends with me feeling like I’ve failed to complete what I set out to accomplish. I could unfairly blame others and their unrealistic expectations. I could accuse circumstances out of my control of aggravating my inefficiency. But the truth is, the only person really responsible for my productivity is me. And now I’ve admitted this, I need to change my work behaviour.

I’ve done a bit of soul searching and I’ve reached the conclusion that my current sluggishness is definitely down to being too sedentary – I’m simply not moving enough during the day. The average British person is estimated to spend 8.9 hours per day sitting, with 7.7 of these hours clocked up at a desk in a workplace. I can definitely relate to this statistic. Some days, from the point I log on in the morning to when I finally sign off for the day, the only movement involving my legs will be to walk to the kettle or the fridge to get refreshments that I will then consume sat back at my desk.

As wellness and employee wellbeing have become hot topics in the HR world, the benefits of getting active in the working day have been well documented. We’re told that fitting activity into the working day increases our mental sharpness, boosts our creativity and makes us feel better equipped to handle the challenges of the day. I believe the hype. So I’m pledging to make the following active changes to my working day in the name of reviving my productivity.

  1. Work on my feet. The nature of office work means we’re pre-programmed to believe we should be seated to be productive. But what is really stopping me taking and making phone calls standing up? And if I can walk over to someone rather than send an email, I really should do it.
  2. Reclaim my lunch break. A recent survey by The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy found one in five employees work through their lunch. I’m one of these people. Studies show people are 23% more productive on days they exercise during the working day than on days they don’t. I may just test this theory out by seeing if adding a 20 minute burst of intense exercise to my lunch break really does have the the power to reduce anxiety and boost my mood for the rest of the day.
  3. Taking active breaks. I definitely suffer from an afternoon slump. My not-so-healthy solution is to grab another coffee (and maybe a chocolate biscuit or two) and attempt to power on. But research indicates that active breaks (as little as 10 minutes of activity) wake up our muscles and boost our circulation. Taking a mid-afternoon stroll seems an indulgence when I’m so busy but it may just be worth it.

Although these active changes are unlikely to reduce the long hours I’m having to put in, I’m hoping they will make this time more productive… or at least tackle some of the chocolate induced weight gain that’s hanging around following the gluttony of the Easter weekend!