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Unhealthy Games

UnhealthyThere’s often competition amongst a team of people. Who can hit their KPI’s first, who can get the best feedback from their clients, who can get the attention of the CEO or who can move up the corporate ladder the quickest.

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of healthy competition in a workplace right?

What about when it becomes about who is the busiest? Who works the longest hours, who gets to turn the lights off at the office, who can take the least amount of annual leave or who answered/sent an email at the latest or earliest time of the day?

Busy has become a game in many organisations and quite a dangerous one. Teammates seem to be having competitions about how busy they are. Before a workshop I ran late last year, I was listening to a couple of people joking how one was busier than the other. It was certainly a ‘badge of honour’ conversation where they were trying to outdo each other in the number of hours worked in the office, when at home and if they take a lunch break or not. This is a very unhealthy conversation and a very unhealthy competition.

There is something fundamentally wrong with this desire people have to brag about the enormous amount of hours they are working and how little hours they are sleeping. Entrepreneurs often lead this trend. It’s not a healthy conversation and is an example of a very unhealthy culture. This type of behaviour isn’t sustainable and will absolutely lead to burnout. It’s a fact that you can’t perform at your best without adequate rest and sleep. Studies have shown that a person operating on less than 6 hours sleep a night has the cognitive function of a drunken person. It’s impossible to perform at your best (even though you may think you are!)

Burnout is a very real risk for employers. Burnt out employees are prevalent in business today and the problem seems to be getting worse as people believe if they work their butts to the bone they will get ahead. In the US alone, studies suggest that burnout will cause employers losses anywhere between 150 to 300 billion dollars. A whopping consequence of a dangerous game.

I would love to see a resourceful competition in a workplace that revolves around who can leave the office earliest after being productive and efficient for the day, who can take all of their annual leave in a year and who can brag about sleeping for 7 hours a night. A very different conversation and culture.

This busy competition and culture aren’t going to work for you. It’s a short-term strategy that has long-term consequences. In his new book ‘When’, Daniel Pink explores time and shares how people were heralded as heroes if they were touting how little sleep they had, whereas now they are considered fools. I’m not sure we’re quite there yet as this science doesn’t seem to have permeated our culture in the majority. However, he goes on to explain the benefits of taking breaks throughout our working day. Science is telling us that taking a break will enable us to perform higher and feel better throughout the day. Seems logical right?

Here are four questions to check in with:

  1. Is your culture supportive of the Busy Game or the Resourceful Game?
  2. What is your mindset around this and what are you role modeling?
  3. Are you supportive of your team leaving the office ‘early’ and taking breaks throughout the day?
  4. Are you encouraging your team to burn the midnight oil and show up at the crack of dawn, whether physically or virtually?

We must turn this busy game around. It’s unhealthy, unproductive and unresourceful to personal and business performance. As leaders, we have a responsibility to lead a healthy workplace and this isn’t as simple as providing a fruit box or having a good range of breakfast cereal on the shelf in your kitchen. It’s leading a culture that is supportive of working smarter not harder, where unhealthy competitions aren’t rewarded and where your team is encouraged to look after themselves. This is ultimately led by you.