Miran Diran, a budding copywriter for a large Indonesian ad agency, slips into a coma and dies after working 30 hours straight. Moritz Erhardt, a German intern for Bank of America, died of a seizure believed to be caused by a 72-hour work binge. Both these young people worked beyond their limits, or frankly reasonable human limits, to complete the tasks given them in order to move ahead or to be considered for future positions. There are industries where this practice is common – treat junior associates and interns without much care. In fact, it’s so prevalent in the banking industry that entire practices have come under scrutiny after Erhardt’s death last fall. But is it only limited to these industries?

It might seem these are one offs; unusual circumstances due to overzealous young people putting themselves at risk. Unfortunately, it seems there is a bigger issue at hand – binge working. This involves working unreasonable hours fueled by energy drinks and technology that allow a person to push themselves beyond reasonable limits. And this trend is costing businesses both in long-term productivity and absenteeism.

According to a survey published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, overwork is associated with the following:

  • Cardiovascular and immunologic reactions
  • Reduced sleep duration
  • Unhealthy lifestyle that contributes to:
    • Cardiovascular disease
    • Diabetes
    • Fatigue
    • Depression

Furthermore, there is evidence that suggests working for years under these stressful conditions may lead to dementia.

Unfortunately, there are many organizations that reward binge working, believing that it is the employee sacrifice rather than the level of productivity that is important. After all, someone working longer hours must be getting more done, right?

Not true! In fact, working long hours with minimal sleep, poor diet and a steady stream of highly caffeinated drinks will negatively impact productivity and increase the number and degree of mistakes that are made.

Break the Binge with Balance

Creating a positive work environment starts at the top, and while there are times that require “all hands on deck,” the day-to-day rhythm of a workplace should be one that is positive and engaging. If your organization is one that requires long hours, make sure that is stated up front, but that there are also checks and balances to ensure that the quality of output is there, not just a lot of people hanging around the office to “put in their time.”

The following ideas will help your organization devise a good plan to ensure your team generates high levels of quality and productivity, not just long hours:

  • Reward Performance – this means rewarding for quality of work and productivity, not simply burning the midnight oil. Devise performance plans that are appropriate for each department or division – a one-size-fits-all will not work for every group.
  • Develop Prioritization Skills – ensure your leaders and team members are solid in prioritizing and adjusting calendars to meet those top priorities.
  • Consider Wellness Programs – keeping employees healthy will go a long way to improving productivity without having them gulp down large quantities of energy drinks. Have seminars with nutritionists, or find creative ways to provide wellness tips. Our group health benefits specialists can provide ideas on wellness programs that fit your needs and your budget.
  • Improve Communication – by ensuring there are open lines of communication, your teams will not only get better information to complete projects and tasks, but spend less time redoing because of miscommunication.

Everyone is busy, trying to do more with less. However, staying focused on core competencies and ensuring employees are well-versed in the most important goals will keep everyone on track. It is important to build in balance so that your corporate culture remains positive, and there are no tragic outcomes like Miran or Moritz.

One way to ensure your organization stays on tasks is to consider outsourcing non-core competencies such as benefits, payroll and human resources administration. The laws surrounding these areas are constantly changing, so choosing to partner with a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) can ensure you stay in compliance and stay focused on your core business. Feel free to give our insurance specialists a call to learn more about PEOs, and keep those energy drinks down to a minimum!

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