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How Many Hours Do You Need to Work to Be Successful?

How Many Hours Do You Need to Work to Be Successful?

As a young professional doing everything you can to ingratiate yourself with your employer, you might think nothing of logging 14-hour workdays. Before you know it, though, you’re no longer a 20-something professional with endless reserves of energy and your whole work life ahead of you. As you hit 50 and look ahead to the next decade of your career, you start to contemplate the net value of your effort in relation to your net effort. 

Some professionals believe that if you’re not logging 50 to 60 hours per week – regardless of achievement – you will not succeed. Some managers agree, believing that there is a direct correlation between hours worked in the office and the associate’s commitment to the employer. 

Other professionals and managers believe strictly in performance-based approaches to their work. In other words, if you log in 10 highly productive hours per week and meet your goals, you can be successful. If you show up for work at 9 a.m. and leave at noon while everyone else is working until 5 p.m., it’s OK as long as you meet your organizational commitments. If you work efficiently and achieve your goals, you should be rewarded with time off.

I posed the following question to several members of LinkedIn’s Talent Management Magazine Group: “On the average, how many hours per week do you feel a person needs to work to succeed at his or her job in today's job market?”

The reason for asking this question was to gather the group's thoughts on how to best manage talent relative to the time worked as it compares with the corresponding perceived commitment to their professions, their jobs and their employers. 

Here are several related questions for young professionals:

  • How many hours do I need to be seen at work (or online) so my boss notices my contribution and places me in line for the next promotion? 
  • Should early-career professionals focus on a performance approach (meeting the goal is the goal) or on a visible approach (being there/available is the goal) or both?
  • How should early-career managers view this dichotomy? Should effective leadership worry about this, and what is the best way to manage talent in an innovative and highly productive organization? 

It's a Choice

Emma Dalgarno, a specialist software operations and talent professional, offered this response to my question:

“Personally, what I believe and preach is that it is a choice. When an individual completes his/her deliverable that they are proud to hand over ahead of schedule, they can either:

  1. Invest in themselves, such as learning a new skill, practicing a skill, reading, etc.
  2. Take private time, such as go home, do a sport.

“The future lies with those individuals who choose to invest in themselves; the lumberjack story demonstrates this well.

"One day a competition was held to see which lumberjack could fell the most trees in a day. The first lumberjack felled tree after tree, not stopping for a rest, and was convinced he would win, especially when each hour he heard silence and knew the second lumberjack was taking a break. He could not lose.

“At the end of the day, the two lumberjacks gathered to hear the results. Sure that he would win, the first lumberjack was dismayed when he heard the second lumberjack being announced as the winner. He turned to the second lumberjack and said, ‘How did you do it? I heard you take a break every hour.’ He replied, ‘When I took a break I sharpened my axe.’ 

“The moral of the story is that you need to look after and keep your tools effective. Today’s tools for professionals are their knowledge. 

“As for the leaders, they should focus on end results and not accepting the noise created by individuals who are not prepared to invest in themselves.”

Measure It

Chris LeBrun, a senior internal/external talent consultant, echoed Emma’s recommendations and added:

“Thinking about how many hours people are working, in general, you need to factor in the culture of your organization and what it means for employees. Not every employee is going to feel the same about how many hours they are or should be working.

“Work/life balance is a more important factor for employees than it ever has been. My question for you is how do you know whether or not people are working too much or too little? If you don't measure, you're missing out on whether or not it's effective, which is really what matters. A couple things I would consider:

  1. Deploy a 'pulse' survey or something to give you an indicator of whether people feel like their work/life balance is appropriate. At the very least it should be something captured on your engagement survey. 
  2. Track your turnover (including regrettable losses) and the reasons for turnover. Either deploy an exit interview survey or make sure you get the information as part of the exit interview process. If people are identifying this as a reason for leaving, it's definitely something you need to address as an organization, whether via a cultural shift in your management, added resources, etc.”

Important Questions to Answer

Talent management professionals have spoken. What do you think? Is managing expectation drivers a dealmaker or dealbreaker in terms of managing talent to its fullest potential? How would you create high net value in relation to minimal net effort in a high-performing organization? How many hours per week do you need to work to be successful? Should work efficiency be rewarded with time off? Will you be able to say that the hours invested at work were a great balance between professional success and the joy of creating family memories?

As we enter a new year, perhaps these are important questions to resolve before the something old becomes the something new; before Monday transforms into Friday; before 20-something morphs into 50-anything all over again.

In the end, the elusive answers to these career-defining questions might be nestled within your conception of what defines professional success. One thing is for sure: The sooner you find the right path, the faster you will get there.

Dare to think differently.

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