Every now and then, a manager at your company might say something like “We need to work longer” or “Our people need to work longer”.

Here’s why I don’t think it is a good idea to say this.

Well, first of all, there may really be the need for people to change something about their work, and so the motivation and the goal of the manager might be valid and important.

However, if the manager puts emphasis on people working longer, he probably won’t achieve his goal. Why? Because his real goal is not that people actually work longer – but he doesn’t actually know this. We’ll see why in a moment.

Ok, now if you’re telling people you want them to work longer, what are you really telling them? You are telling them this:

“Look, you’re working about 8 hours per day now, but I want you to work 9, 10 or 11 hours, because we need to become better. So, I’m asking you to work 3 hours more, which means I want you to do around 30% more work, which means I want us as a company to become around 30% better.”

30%? Really? That’s the amount of how much you want us to do better? And all we have to do is stay longer, and that’s it?

Let’s face it, doing about 30% better isn’t going to get you anywhere significant. And I’m not even going to start talking about why working 30% longer of course won’t bring anything significant in your company up by 30%, especially not the “doing better” – much has been written about this already.

Here is what I propose: Ask your people that you want them to become 300% better at what they do! That you want the whole company to become 300% better than it is right now. And don’t even mention working longer.

Because if you tell people this, then everybody is going to understand that this goal won’t be achieved by working 300% longer, because 8 x 3 is 24, and for obvious reasons this is not going to work out.

You should probably even go this far as to tell your people you want them to achieve the 300% goal by actually working normal 8 hour workdays – as a new, strict rule! Now this is an interesting challenge for intelligent people, isn’t it?

Because then they are forced to contemplate about how well they will need to work, and not how much they will need to work, because that is going to be the only way to achieve the goal.

At the end of the day, what you want is people to change, and that is the hardest thing of all. Maybe the only thing people hate even more than change is being critizised. Which is why it isn’t such a good idea to start with a negative connotation if you want people to change.

Why does asking people to work longer have a negative connotation? Because it sounds like a punishment. It sounds like “we haven’t been doing well, and as a result, we need to stay longer”. Well, at least in Germany, “staying longer” is exactly the kind of punishment we all have actually been raised with in school (it is called “Nachsitzen”).

Here is another point of view: What you actually want is people to become worthier for your company, that they create more value, right? Well, it seems obvious to me that some people in companies seem to already have partly achieved this goal, because they get paid a lot more than others. Which basically means that they create more value for the company (which is or at least should be the only valid reason they get paid more, right)?

So, let’s say you have some Juniors and some Seniors in your company, and the Seniors get paid twice the money compared to the Juniors.

How did the Seniors get there? Was it something like this?

  • As a Junior, they worked 5 hours
  • As a Regular, they worked 7 hours
  • As a Senior, they now work 10 hours
Well, I guess we can agree that this is not how this kind of stuff works.

But then what’s happening here? Why is it ok to pay them more? Well, those people don’t work longer, they work better. So, if this is what enables people to create more value for the company, then why would you want to put the focus on working longer?

The conclusion: Don’t ask people to work longer. Instead, think really hard about how to create an environment which allows people to work a lot better than they do today, and put a lot of effort into implementing this environment.

This of course is a lot harder than just asking them to work longer – but this is a very good sign that it is going to achieve you a lot more.

Manuel Kiessling is currently working at MyHammer AG, a company that puts a lot of effort into continuously improving by 300%.

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