Long Working Hours: A Hidden Killer to Your Productivity and Bottom Line

January 28, 2016 12:40 pm
View Article

Long work hours are often an uncomfortable topic of discussion for many leaders, especially for those leaders who cut their teeth in the 80’s ‘Men of Steel’ 70 hour work-week culture. Leaders from this generation often struggle to relate to employees who protest working long hours and seemingly value a work-life balance over their career advancement, perceiving them as ‘lazy’. Sure, these employees might actually be lazy, or they might be onto something. As organisations are placing a greater emphasis on driving efficiency into everything they do, the question must be asked; is there really anything efficient about working long hours?

Let’s compare two employees. Joe works 12 hours every day and Mike works between 7 and 8 hours per day. Given that both employees produce they exact same output of work, who would you say is the better worker? It is of course obvious that Mike is a far more efficient worker and the better choice of the two. In all honesty though, which one would you most like to have working at your organisation?

Rarely is the answer to this question so simple, as it is likely to be influenced by the workplace culture embedded in your business. Depending on the workplace culture, the thinking regarding Joe will be either “Wow, that Joe really puts in the hours, he is such a team player”, or “What is it about Joe or Joe’s position that means he has to work 12 hours a day to get his job done?”. If an indicator of performance is simply how long someone spends at work, you might want to re-think your performance evaluation procedures.

Culture is driven by leadership and Managers and Executives are often the worst offenders. A recent detailed analysis by the Office of National Statistics in the UK found that full-time managers and senior officials who are contracted to work 38.5 paid hours a week actually worked on average 46.2 hours per week. “Gone are the days of the 40-hour workweek,” said one survey respondent. “My company expects all managers to put in 50 to 60 hours a week as the average”.

How did we get here? Was it really so long ago that the Ford motor company cut working hours from 12-16 hours to 8 hours and dramatically increased productivity, leading to Ford doubling their profit margins within two years?

It may sound hypocritical coming from us here at Coriolis, as Consultants are in no position to judge. Big consulting firms have a notorious reputation of hellishly long working hours.  After all, clients pay a premium for consulting services and they like to think they are getting their money’s worth. But what exactly does ‘getting your money’s worth’ mean?

A study of consultants by Erin Reid, a professor at Boston University, determined that managers were unable to tell the difference between consultants who actually worked 80 hours a week and those who worked 40 hours and just pretended to work 80. In that particular study, although consultants who were transparent about working fewer hours were paid less, Reid was unable to find any evidence that those consultants actually accomplished less, or any sign that the overworking consultants accomplished more.

Whilst it’s not exactly a secret that sustained long working hours do not increase overall productivity, the extent to which they can decrease productivity is mind-blowing. In fact, a recent study completed at Stanford University found that the average total output of employees working 60 hour weeks for a period of 2 weeks or more is less than two thirds that of what it was when the employees worked 40 hour weeks.

You don’t have to think too hard about why the outcomes of this study make sense; how many of us have made a silly error or bad judgement call after a few long weeks? Whilst burnout and fatigue are the obvious symptoms of long working hours, the risk of impaired sleep, depression, heavy drinking, diabetes, impaired memory, and heart disease all rise sharply with sustained long work hours. Not only are these horrible things for an employee to suffer, they’re also disastrous for an organisation’s bottom line, evident in high absenteeism, high turnover, and an increase in health insurance costs. It is highly unlikely that any perceived benefits of having a culture of ‘hardworking’ staff can justify these costs.

Now, this is not to say we should never have a long day. The occasional 12 hour day may be the difference between achieving a critical organisational objective or not. The research, however, clearly shows that long hours should not be routine.  The key to engaged, productive and loyal employees is flexibility.  Leaders need to accept the fact that regardless of the employee’s engagement or performance, there really is a limit to how much can be achieved in a single day, just as employees know that working extra hours may occasionally be required. A culture of long working hours is a culture of diminishing returns and the tired old mantra of ‘there is always more work to be done’ should be retired in favour of an agile, adaptable working environment.

Further sources:




Written by Sam Byrnes, Coriolis Consulting Pty Ltd

Looking outside your factory walls to find new ideas – pt.1: Healthcare

January 14, 2016 3:52 pm
View Article

As we consider how to improve further, faster, a great source of new ideas can be analogous operating environments.  In this post, we discuss healthcare – a high pressure operational environment which has been the focus of much improvement activity over the last decade…

Hospitals are learning from industry – shown here in the use of Automatically Guided Vehicles (AGVs) to distribute meals and linen.  What ideas do hospitals have that we could use?

What do hospitals and food manufacturing have in common?

Both have to get it absolutely right all the time

I was amazed when I heard consumers complain about getting 13 packs of crisps in a multipack rather than the labelled 12 (it led to sibling squabbles over the 13th bag!).  It really makes us realise that our definition of ‘right’ is not always aligned with consumer wants nor are our solutions always acceptable.  The health system has performed some excellent work in ‘patient centred design’.  This doesn’t merely elicit requirements from patients and their families but actually involves them in designing solutions.  And their suggestions are taken very seriously.  The question is ‘why not implement?’ rather than ‘why implement?’.  Do we treat our consumer suggestions in the same manner?

Both are highly reliant on great people

We are fortunate to work in many facilities where we see great people, passionate about making wonderful food for consumers.  Hospitals are similarly staffed with motivated people wanting to provide the best care to patients.  However, systems can sometimes stand between people and results.  Have we examined how our systems provide support for our team to do the best job and to feel motivated about doing it?  Or are we building in waste which results in sub optimal outcomes and demotivated staff?

Both are highly complex, resource intensive operational structures balancing short term and long term needs

An idle production line costs many thousands of dollars an hour as does an empty operating theatre.  However, do we build in excess capacity to cater for an unanticipated demand?  Planning is a critical success factor for both environments – even the most unpredictable environment shows patterns and trends over a large enough data set.  If an emergency department can predict, surely we can too.  Are we searching for these patterns or conceding to chaos by accepting poor forecasting?

So, how can we get it absolutely right all the time in a complex structure? 

Firstly, by engaging with our consumers, customers and other key stakeholders to define ‘absolutely right’.  Then we must be creative with our measures to ensure that we have tangible dimensions to fully define this, evident to those in control of the delivery systems.  And what of those systems?  Let’s work with great people to make the best systems we can: error proof, self-correcting, motivational and visually obvious.

When we are looking to build better systems, let’s be creative in exploring other industries, such as healthcare, aviation, IT, education, hospitality etc.  Do you have ideas from other environments you would like to share on this forum? Share your thoughts on our company LinkedIn page


Written by Robyn Stubbs, Coriolis Consulting Pty Ltd

Opportunity Knocks: Systems Approach to Human Error Can Change Your Operations

January 5, 2016 9:38 am
View Article

I looked up at the knock on my door.  One glance at the Quality Director’s concerned expression and the bag of product under his arm told me this wasn’t going to be a social call.

‘I thought I’d better come and show you this.  I know you won’t be happy about it either… this is the third time we have packed product in the wrong primary packaging.  We have done ‘root cause analysis’ twice, re-trained and disciplined people. This is something that could harm our allergic consumers, not to mention the rework costs you are about to get hit with…

What are we going to do about it this time that’s different?’

Wow, what a start to the day.  We were a plant in control and I didn’t like surprises like this. I went out to the line and found the team leader, a seasoned and responsible production professional quarantining product and looking embarrassed.

‘I don’t know how this happened again.  We followed the procedure.  All the paperwork was completed properly, including the quality checks.  And I looked at the product myself this morning.  I guess I will be re-training me this time!’.

This scenario might ring true with you.

The good news is that there is a practical, evidence-based tool you can add to your armoury to investigate and prevent this type of event – the ‘systems approach to Human Error’.

The systems approach to Human Error examines how and why undesired outcomes, involving people’s actions, occur.  It is underpinned by the premise that our actions are shaped by systems and our environment.  Which, in turn, are designed by talented and fallible people just like all of us!

This tool has been widely accepted and applied in high criticality environments such as aviation and healthcare to improve outcomes.  It was developed by Prof. James Reason – a psychologist interested in optimising human performance with nearly 2 million hits on Google Scholar.

So, back to my dilemma – how can a systems approach to Human Error help me today? It will help me in both how I investigate the failure and how I choose to remedy it.

Investigation phase: what has happened and why – aka ‘human error is not a root cause’!

There was a current procedure and it covered this part of the process.  The operators were trained in the procedure and assessed as competent.

When the team leader asked the operators what they did today, they stated the correct procedure.  They also fully understood the impact of the issue.  So, there was no knowledge or motivation gap – we knew what we should have done, why it was important and it still went awry.

This happens all the time.  Think of the football player taking a penalty.  He or she KNOWS what needs to happen (ball past goalkeeper to score) but it doesn’t always happen.  Even when it is an important match.

Let’s look deeper into systems: we must have had failures in both putting the primary packing on the machine and in checking product quality.  What is the process for each?  What makes them easy or difficult to complete reliably?

In today’s scenario, the team leader found that while 5S and a packaging Kanban were in place, recent changes in product mix led to concern that the line might run out of material during the day.  Some extra primary packing material was stored in a location usually used for a different product.

This leads our investigation to consider how we control change and flex our visual management tools to support processes reliability.  And how do our team communicate when they cannot complete their work (such as stocking the line with packing materials) in the standard way?

Regarding checking – we discovered that checking wasn’t standardised.  We need to carefully consider how many checks are in place.  Any more than two checks has been shown to dilute responsibility and, in so doing, diminish error detection.  And we need to improve how checks are performed. Some plants have reduced batch code errors to close to zero by ensuring the check format closely matches the printed format (size, font, colour).

What Next?

So, now we have a much firmer basis for our discussion of correction and prevention with the Quality Director, which we will discuss next time in ‘Human Systems Thinking to Drive Performance’.

Written by Robyn Stubbs, Coriolis Consulting Pty Ltd