6pm. Quitting time. Supposedly. That's what it says in your contract at least. As you walk out, you start seeing the narrowing of eyes from your 'tireless' colleagues. "I've got somewhere to be, meeting a friend for dinner' you stammer, trying to excuse your indiscretion. "Leaving early again", they're all thinking, as they hunker down for a good couple of hours of overtime, ensuring, of course, that this devotion to the cause won't go unnoticed by those with the power.
It's not difficult to see how we've evolved to this working mindset in business: tales of previous generations being put to work since the age of 16, and working 25 hours a day in order to achieve outstanding success. The more hours you work, the more 'above and beyond' you go, the more people that notice that insatiable work ethic and the more likely you'll reap the rewards in the long-term. The result? We compete to be the last one in the office, to send the latest e-mail in the absolute dead of the night - I've even heard anecdotally of one employee claiming he was too busy to go to the toilet.
There have been countless studies, research, news stories to the contrary - long working hours cause cancer, dementia, heart problems, depression - but these are mere sacrifices for a greater goal. Does a boxer worry about the frequent concussions catching up to him when he's 60? Does a dancer worry about the almost inevitable struggles with arthritis to come in later years? If you work hard and make sacrifices now, you'll supposedly set yourself up just fine in the future - the reinforcement is all around us.
However, frequently working long hours has been proven time and time again to be detrimental to productivity. It becomes harder to stay focused and tackle problems. Tasks take longer, so you inevitably end up spending even more time in the office, and the cycle continues. Meanwhile, the newer generations, who prefer flexible hours, bring fresh new approaches and streak ahead, unfettered by anachronistic processes. Just because a process is 'the way you've always done things', doesn't make it untouchable. Nor does experience always trump youthful impudence.
I can't deny working hard is a desirable trait in an employee, but this isn't synonymous with working long hours. Today's whippersnapper generation, 'the Millennials' as MTV calls them, are learning more efficient methods to work and place emphasis on keeping a stricter work/life balance. In this vein, research from Harvard Medical School has recently highlighted the importance of creativity for workers, pointing out that hobbies and time away from the office can not only give you confidence, but give you the positivity to help overcome tricky confrontations and situations.
Creativity's an appropriate theme too this week, in the light of the annual Cannes International Festival of Creativity, which is currently drawing to a close. Alongside branding agency Lambie-Nairn, we've been getting creative ourselves with our Cannes Also initiative - being taught a few tricks by Wallace & Gromit creators Aaardman, balloon artists Airigami and Lego pros Bright Bricks. You'd be surprised how many grown adults like a bit of clay and Lego!
It's simply not enough to zone out in front of the TV for a couple of hours - that's only delaying thinking about work again. By stimulating your mind in some way by tackling some different form of challenge, you're putting your brain to task in a completely different way. It may not seem that rock-climbing (advised by TFL last week as a way of occupying yourself during Olympics rush hour) will directly help you deal with a client shouting down the phone at you, but it actually could!
Creativity is not something we should just be encouraging in schools, and leaving behind us once we finish education. From five to 55, and beyond, set aside some time each week, each month to do something stimulating. Make some pottery, learn how to juggle, act like you're 12 again and buy some Lego. Tackle a problem that has no ramifications, stress or timeframe - and simply have some fun. Even the pub plays its part - it's been proven that we are actually much better at solving other people's problems, than those which concern ourselves.
Employers now too are making efforts to encourage employees to make the most of their time away from their desks, implementing schemes and activities to broaden some horizons. From lunch-time yoga sessions, to setting aside a day each quarter for an away day, there's few large businesses left that aren't endeavouring to provide stimulation that isn't desk-based.
So what is left other than a fear of change? All work-no play doesn't just make Jack a dull boy, it could well make him an unemployable one too.
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