The traditional “nine-to-five” workweek has become a thing of the past in today’s fast-paced, global business world. While work-life balance continues to be a priority for most employees, it seems that nearly 27 percent of Americans work past 10 p.m. during the week, and nearly 30 percent of are working weekends. The average American workweek is also 3 hours longer than runner-up United Kingdom.

We can speculate about the exact reason for this trend, but, in all likelihood, the American workweek is a result of a variety of different factors: culture, fewer laws regulating work hours (in comparison with most European countries), increased mobility in the workforce thanks to laptops, email, and smartphones, etc. There’s also the fact that no country truly operates in isolation anymore. Many businesses are global and don’t function only in one time zone.

When companies scatter teams across the globe, there’s unavoidable pressure for employees to be working--or to at least be ‘on-call’--around the clock. While the trend in globalization is offering new opportunities for business, what is it doing for employee morale? Is our workweek a product of employee dedication? Or are employees forced to work overtime to keep up with an “always-on” corporate culture, in fear of falling behind or becoming obsolete? It may be a bit of both--and it may also vary from company to company.

For HR managers, though, it’s something to be aware of. Research has shown that employees who feel trapped by inflexible, excessive work hours are less likely to be motivated. A “life outside of work” is much harder to come by if you don’t have designated work hours. If employees are working past traditional hours without flexibility to accommodate personal time (especially for those with families and other obligations), employee engagement is bound to take a hit down the road.

There’s a reason why work-life balance is taken seriously in the world of HR. It continues to be a key differentiator for top talent seeking a company to call their home, and companies have a great opportunity to make work-life balance a prerequisite for their corporate culture, too. According to recent research, working “marathon hours” can result in health risks, sleep deprivation, and decreased productivity, none of which are desirable outcomes for your employees.

While there’s no way to physically shut off the global workforce, perhaps it is possible to create your own boundaries. As HR managers, you can encourage employees to set boundaries on their own workweeks. While extenuating circumstances sometimes call for extra working hours, reassure employees that going “offline” won’t put their jobs at risk. Having the ability to focus on work, family, and friends, and extracurricular activities will make a huge difference in employee motivation.

Running a marathon isn’t something you can do every day, so don’t expect your employees to be able to do so. Giving a little flexibility to employees might just gain your company significant rewards.

Want to learn more about how corporate culture can be leveraged to attract, hire and retain top talent? Watch the recording of our #SmartTalkHR webinar with George Blomgren of The Good Jobs to discover how to establish, promote, and sustain your employer brand from talent acquisition to layoffs.

05 August 2015

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