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Staying Late At Work Isn't Something To Brag About

Staples Business Advantage (in conjunction with Jacob Morgan) unleashed its 2016 Workplace Index this morning, and you might want to step away from your standing desk to sit down for a minute.

Okay, here's the scoop: Employees are burned out! Slightly more than four in 10 employees surveyed (41%) admit to feeling incredibly burned out at work, while 63% single out the workplace as their main cause of stress.

But wait, it gets better! 70% of employees said they're working more than 40 hours per week, and 46% are staying after hours to finish the work they didn't have time to complete during the 8-hour work day.

To me, this 46% statistic says a lot about where we are as a work culture. We're working more hours, but for many employees these extra hours are for catching up on the work they should have already finished. And I thought technology was going to make us more efficient. What's going on here?

There are many reasons why we're taking longer to finish our work. We're forced to attend too many useless meetings. Our open office environment is distracting. We check our messages far too often, so we can never get a work rhythm going. We tend to procrastinate, thinking we'll work better under pressure. Our attention spans are shorter, so everything we work on takes longer.

We don't want to be the first to leave the office for fear of looking bad, or losing out. Basically, work is like the Bermuda Triangles challenge on Survivor. We want to be the one to outwit, outlast and outplay everyone else on the team by being the last one standing at our standing desk. Tell us what we've won, Bob?


Employers, meanwhile, are keeping employee headcount to a minimum. Not only is the workplace understaffed, it's lost many of its support layers. The things employees used to hand off to somebody else they must now take care of themselves.

It used to be that an employee who needed to book a flight for a conference would have handed the task off to a travel agent or to an in-house assistant in charge of such things. These days? The employee is sitting at his desk researching the lowest fares while also looking for a hotel room on top of trying to get his workload done by 5 p.m., which won't happen. Is this efficient? No. Is it time consuming? Yes.

Instead of feeling suspicious of the efficient employee who finishes everything by 5:30 p.m. and is gleefully out the door, employers need to ask why employees are still working long after traditional business hours. Hmm. So-and-so got here at 6 a.m., and now it's 6 p.m. and he's still here, researching air fares and working on a white paper. Why?

Well, maybe he was asked to answer phones for an hour first thing this morning because the office was short-staffed, before being called into an impromptu, hour-long meeting. Then he was asked to open and unpack ten boxes of copier paper and stack them neatly in the supply closet. Then the copier repair guy showed up, and he had to explain what's wrong with the copier. He still has to book his flight for next week's conference, fill out five forms, turn in this month's mileage, return a ton of Slack messages, make ten phone calls, return 15 "urgent" emails, meet with a customer, try not to feel distracted by the noisy open office environment, let a new, 40-year-old unpaid intern shadow him on the job, take out the office recycling (it's his turn) and update the company's Twitter page. Will there be any time to finish writing the white paper that's due by noon tomorrow? Stay tuned!

If you're nodding in agreement because you can identify with the distractions of the modern work day, then my work here is done.

Getting our work done efficiently within the bookends of an 8-hour work day should be the goal, even in a modern app economy. Employers need to take some load off employees by re-instituting a few lost support layers. Employers need to hire a few additional staff members, and decide which projects will take top priority this week (please stop flagging everything as urgent) because no amount of app technology can make up for the time that's lost to trivial tasks that everyone must do in an office that's severely understaffed.

Staying late at work isn't something to brag about; it's something to fix. Unfortunately, there's no app for that.

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