One of the (many) problems I have with the modern business world is all the cliches, platitudes and, frankly, meaningless banality that we are bombarded with, usually dreamt up by coaches like me.
One such that I was pondering recently is the label that some individuals and companies give themselves to indicate that they are serious. They take their professional responsibilities seriously, and when they are not at work they let their hair down in an equally committed way. They boast that they are people who “work hard and play hard”. When companies describe themselves in this way they’re really telling us that they expect their employees to work hard, and that they are looking to recruit high energy, outgoing people. I don’t think they are particularly bothered about how hard their employees play.
Where in the work hard, play hard philosophy is the message that rest and relaxation are also important for a healthy, balanced life? Lunch is for wimps, and so, it seems, is sleep.Recent research tells us that greater happiness can be achieved if people slept more. The problem we face at the moment is not that we don’t “play” hard enough, it’s that we don’t sleep hard enough. Happiness is the point here because what people are quickly realising is that happiness is really what they seek above anything.
The research, commissioned by Sainsbury’s, came out a while ago and it received fairly widespread coverage so I won’t go over the details. For those that are interested in reading more on it you can download their Living Well Index report here.
Another recent study appears to suggest that the risk of Alzheimer’s can be reduced if people slept more owing to a discovery that a lack of sleep increases the presence of a brain protein that is linked to the illness. More on that here.
To mark World Mental Health Day on October 11th the headteacher of a west London secondary school gave out alarm clocks to pupils, with a note to parents inviting them to take away connected devices at night in an effort to encourage the youngsters to go to sleep. The excuse is often made by youngsters that they need their phone for the alarm function in the morning. No doubt teenagers are resourceful enough to get around this idea, but the message is important, if symbolic.
Another problem with the work hard culture is that it discriminates in favour of those who have fewer commitments outside work, like family, and we all know what that boils down to; women, in particular, are held back in this way.
Instead of crowing about being a place where people work hard and play hard, I’d like to see more employers encouraging staff to work hard but not long hours, to ensure they eat a healthy diet, exercise, spend time with friends and family and critically, to get a good night’s sleep. They can start by ensuring that their senior managers set the right example by leaving at a reasonable time, encouraging their team members to do the same, and by making it clear that staying late is not impressive.
That way they will end up with a far more productive workforce than they would if they encouraged people to burn themselves out.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s 2am and I need to watch a bit of telly.