Need to spring-clean your career? ‘Long work hours don't equate to high productivity’

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Vumi Msweli
Vumi Msweli

It’s time to stop seeing and accepting things as they are. Shift, lift and shake up your career.

My childhood memories of spring are filled with the smell of furniture polish, ammonia and dust. It is a ritual that happens across the world – people stop seeing their world as it is, shift things, lift things, shake them up, dust them down, and set them down looking as good as new.

That is the beauty of spring-cleaning.

It is looking closely at things you see every day and not taking comfort in them – but, in essence, interrogating their purpose to make them the best version of themselves, or to simply throw them out if they no longer serve us. This is a principle we must institute in our careers.

When thinking of our careers, there are certain behaviours, beliefs and approaches that must be spring-cleaned. The traditional, long-held belief that to be successful at work one must work hard, is fast becoming redundant.

Being the first person at the office and being the last to leave may lead to the perception that you are ahard worker, but in reality it does not necessarily mean you are the most productive employee.

When we take a look to the East, we see the Japanese phenomenon known as karoshi. This is translated as “death from overwork”. This term arose in the 1970s and is used to describe a death as a result of a heart attack, stroke due to stress, starvation diet ,or suicide, all incurred as a direct consequence of work stress and being overworked.

This has historically been driven by working long hours, with overtime of up to 80 hours a month, getting involved in after-hours, work-related activities such as having after-work drinks with colleagues where the main topic of discussion is work, or not taking leave days in order to have a mental break from work.

Long work hours, unfortunately, do not equate to high productivity. This is clear when the G7 countries are analysed: among them, Japan has the longest work hours, but has the lowest labour productivity.

Japan produces an average of 45.5 Gross Domestic Product per hour worked, while the United States of America, with much more relaxed working hours, produces 68.3 Gross Domestic Product per hour. The fallacy that working hard for long hours results in success, is quickly being dismissed.

Quality of work, rather quantity of working hours, is what results in success. Productivity is actually increased by having healthy employees. Staff who are well rested, have a healthy work-life balance, are empowered and are allowed to think dynamically, are proven to be more productive. Some of the best ways to increase productivity is by creating a work environment that is transparent and encourages feedback among colleagues.

A work environment that gives people autonomy and freedom, both liberates and empowers. It gives individuals the ability to execute the how of their given tasks. The most empowering work space is one where tasks are given and objectives are outlined, but the how is left to the creativity of those executing the work. Doing this allows for innovation, efficiency creation, camaraderie among colleagues, smart working, and productive employees.


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In looking at your own career, have you been focused on working hard as opposed to being focused on productivity and positioning? Is this a space where you need to not accept things as they were, but thoroughly review your approach? Does your approach require a spring-clean? In spring-cleaning your career, you need to dust out old approaches and challenge yourself to acquire best practices from leading industries and prolific thought leaders. You need to stop and see if you are still on track to achieve your goals.

What relationships do you need to outgrow to get you where you need to be? What patterns must break? What prejudices released? What needs to change? I encourage us all to be the kind of employees who will never suffer from karoshi, but instead flourish in work we enjoy and life we love.

This can come from getting down and dirty, examining our careers, throwing out long-held beliefs that simply no longer serve, updating our skill set, and revising our approach – in essence, truly spring cleaning our careers. May you be productive – working smart and strategically adding great value, and not just sitting in the office working laborious hours with negligible impact.

This spring, may you go into every nook and cranny of your career and spring-clean it, so it emerges better than new!

Vumile Msweli is a career coach, TedX speaker and founder of Hesed Consulting, a Pan-African coaching firm with presence in Botswana; South Africa; Rwanda; Nigeria and the United States of America. She has successfully lead her teams globally remotely and been able to effectively adapt during these unprecedented times of the pandemic while growing the business. She holds an Accounting Sciences degree, Honours in Financial Planning, postgraduate from New York University, an MBA from the University of London, post graduate at Harvard University and is currently studying her doctorate in Switzerland. Her business accolades include being named Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans, CEO Magazine’s Pan-African Business Woman, and Brand South Africa’s “Play Your Part” Ambassador.

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