THE BLOG

Changing the Cult of Churn 'Em and Burn 'Em

04/02/2014 11:05 GMT | Updated 05/04/2014 10:59 BST

The growing culture of overwork is becoming increasingly endemic and is not just a problem in the UK, USA or Australia. In several western countries patterns of overwork are emerging in both public and private sectors.

Long working hours are particularly entrenched in investment banking culture. The tragic death of Moritz Erhardt, a 21 year old German intern working for the Bank of America's wealth management division brought the issue to international public attention late last summer. Although the exact circumstances around his death are unclear, reports suggest that he had been working incredibly long hours and suffered a seizure after working until 6am three days in a row.

Other similar stories have since started to emerge, shining a spotlight on the "churn 'em and burn 'em" cult of professionals striving to get ahead by working long working hours. In response, several Wall Street banks have reviewed the grueling hours of their employees and recently announced new policy plans designed to help improve employee work life balance. Initiatives include protecting a set number of weekends per month, encouraging group breaks, bringing in more junior employees to alleviate pressures experienced by senior staff and improvements in technology to help increase work efficiency.

Outside of the banking world, telecommuting, flexi-time, compressed workweeks, job sharing and reduced schedules are examples of some current policies being introduced and trialed by forward thinking companies. Many organizations report the great benefits that such policies have started to bring, not just to the employees utilizing them, but also to business profitability and productivity.

Policies that permit telecommuting can significantly reduce costs. According to a review of 500 telecommuting studies conducted by Global Workplace Analytics (http://www.globalworkplaceanalytics.com/resources/costs-benefits) allowing telework has reduces attrition, saving $10,000 - $30,000 on average, per employee. Remote working also reduces unscheduled absences, which typically cost employers $1,800 per employee, per year. Real estate rental costs decrease on average by $10,000 per full-time teleworker and relocation costs can be completely eliminated.

Cost savings are not the only benefit realized in these efforts. Many companies are finding that client satisfaction often increases as a result of job-sharing arrangements in particular, where two people share the responsibility what would previously have been an account or project managed by one person.

Flexible work policies require flexible thinking and need flexibility in their implementation in such a way that creates a shift in corporate culture.

Flexibility needs to come from the top down in order to develop more flexible work policies that support sustainable work patterns.

The outdated model of an exemplary employee being the first person to arrive at the office, last to leave, willing to work over weekends and forgoing vacations needs to be replaced by the person who adds the most value to the organization via the originality, quality and results of their work, regardless of where or for how long their work is carried out.

The aforementioned Global Workplace Analytics report about the advantages of telecommuting states that 14% of Americans have changed jobs in order to shorten their commute, almost half have said their commute is getting worse and two-thirds would consider taking another job to reduce their travel time. In terms of time saving, teleworking can make a huge difference in achieving better work life balance.

If you are looking to learn how to escape office overwork, consider whether teleworking or some of the other flexi-work policies highlighted above could help you to reduce stress, work less and beat burnout. If flexi-work policies are not already in place within your organization or are met with resistance by senior management, get flexible and creative with your thinking in order to find a way to promote change within the culture your organization.

Successful change requires trust.

If you can prove to your boss that flexi-working will enable you to be equally if not more productive then not only is it possible to have her support you in a new way of working, but you can inspire others to follow your lead and become a catalyst for much needed corporate change.

Consider the following preparatory steps before introducing the concept of telecommuting to your superior:

1) Explore what parts of your role could be done remotely

2) Pre-empt any potential concerns that your boss might have, so that you can creatively find ways to overcome them

3) Experiment with taking your work out of the office environment to see whether you have the discipline to work alone.

4) Quantify your current productivity and document it as evidence to present to your boss.

5) Practice asking directly and with confidence for what you want before approaching your boss with a flexible work suggestion.

Once you feel certain that you can successfully prove your ability to work remotely, ask for a trial period to demonstrate the benefits that flexible working can help you bring to your organization. This will help to warm your boss to the concept before requesting her to commit to it as a permanent arrangement.