It is a common misconception that the employee who spends long hours at their work-station: arriving before the manager and leaving after, seldom taking lunch breaks and not using up their full holiday allocation, must be good and dedicated workers. In fact, often the opposite is true and there are a number of good reasons for a manager in a leadership position to insist that their staff take full advantage of their break times and their holiday allowances.
If an employee genuinely needs to spend full working days slogging away at their tasks, they are possibly being overworked. No one should have so much work piled onto them that they cannot complete it all within a set time period, whether it is daily or fortnightly, for example, for longer projects. While the occasional very busy week – during a marketing event or promotion, for example – is absolutely normal, in general, a worker should be able to come in, put in their seven or eight hours, and leave with a clear inbox and a sense of accomplishment.
Even if your staff have plenty to be getting on with, taking regular breaks can actually increase their productivity. Sitting at a desk for long stretches of time can make it hard to divide up the day into bite-sized pieces which can make the employee simply plod slowly through their in-box. Knowing that they will be taking a break in three or four hours can help them to prioritise: ‘This paperwork must be ready before lunchtime, so I’ll do that first. That will leave 3 hours, and I have two jobs that will use up an hour each, so I’ll do those next. Then I’ll take fifty minutes to read my emails and the last ten minutes to plan out my afternoon.’ This way of working, breaking the day up, helps to achieve a sense of accomplishment. Instead of merely ploughing one’s way through a pile of work, the employee can tick off four items from a list, so they feel that they are actively working, rather than simply marking time until the end of the day.
Having a break in the middle of long stretches of work can work like a refresh and reset button, re-energising the employee. They can also run errands and tick off personal to-dos that might otherwise have had them clock-watching at the end of the day.
Keep an eye out…
One reason that many HR departments tend to be a little wary of those who work immensely long hours, and yet don’t seem to have the need to is criminality. Someone who is siphoning work funds or who might be manipulating figures to enhance their personal finances tends not to take breaks, being mildly paranoid that in their absence their nefarious doings may be spotted. Often these people put into place lengthy and complicated processes for getting jobs done – this is a major warning sign that they don’t want to be investigated too closely. All jobs should be as simple as possible, and other employees should be able to step into the job should absence or illness make it necessary.
Finally, there is a very good reason for enforcing legally mandated breaks and holidays: they are legally mandated! And on that topic, a break does not count if the employee is expected to remain on the premises, ready to help out with sales or phone calls if it gets busy. For a break to count, the employee should ideally leave the premises for the duration, allowing them to completely focus on their lunch or their own errands.