How to Inspire Your Team to Put In More Hours (Though I Don’t Think You Should)

In startup culture, it’s an unspoken sin to leave the office before 6PM. When a few people start doing it, the trend spreads. Before you know it, you can hear a pin drop beyond the nine-to-five. Where did everyone go? Do they not care anymore?

Every boss I’ve ever had addressed clocking out early in only one way: complaining. Sometimes passive aggressively (ugh), sometimes by email (cowardly), sometimes at full company meetings (awkward). When these announcements spread, everyone takes the punishment, returns to their work with heads down and obliges like spiteful children – at least for a while.

Every time, individuals punished most by this approach are almost never the guilty ones. The goody two-shoes who always work hard hear the message and work harder. Those at fault for bailing early in the first place continue to rebel against Mom and Dad, never taking the message to heart. Complaining about early clock-out culture always results in the opposite desired effect: infractors keep infracting and you burn out your best.

As a leader, how can you keep people invested enough to stick around?

Lead by example. If, as a manager, you’re not the hardest worker pulling longer hours than anyone else, no one will hear you.

Reward visible hard work. Develop relationships with those who stick around late, engage yourself in their contributions, talk them up to their supervisor, privilege their projects over everyone else’s and move their career forward. Play favorites. When others ask why he or she deserves special treatment, make it clear. Time is scarce as a leader and the goody two-shoes stuck around after hours when you had the most available time. Everyone will start getting the idea.

Inspire with grand vision. No human will genuinely give their life away for quotas. When it comes to a greater sense of self purpose, who truly cares about percentage market share, impressions or sales? You think our soldiers risk their lives for America’s GDP? No, they fight to make America the greatest country in the world. If you lean on numbers for your company mission, you suffer from vision deficiency. Colonize other planets. Teach everyone to grow food. Cure cancer. Make everyone laugh. Raise the bar so high that you can’t possibly measure it. Keep your people looking up at the sky and they might stop looking down at their watches.

Set an example, reward good behavior and reach for the moon. Don’t punish the children.

Holding On to An Idea

We all forget things often and risk losing good ideas. As soon as a brilliant idea comes to you, there are two things you can do to preserve it. First, you can record it – in writing, picture, drawing or video – and put it in a place where you will never lose it. The alternative, I’m afraid, is to let the idea linger in mental space and see if it can stand the test of time. The best ideas are not easily forgotten and won’t leave you alone. If you truly want to test the relative strength your idea, see whether you forget it after a while. If you fail to write it down and never forget it, chances are pretty good that your idea counts for something and isn’t going to run away from you.

Make Time To Find A Better Way

If you have the choice between performing a task in the same painful manner you always do or taking the time to invent a better way, always opt for the latter. If you can afford to invent in spite of deadlines, resources or the status quo, then do it. Time saved down the road often outweighs the time invested now. If you fail to make a better system, at least you tried and will know better next time. A slap on the hand is totally worth it in the scheme of things.

Time OR Stress, Not Both

In college, sleep deprivation and stress pushed my heart to the edge and sent me to the doctor one too many times. I’ve made very long strides to take better care of myself since then. Lately, I’ve been sleeping an average 7.8 hours per night if you’d believe it. I’ve always tried to be a badass and keep things cool in spite of the pain. Looking back, the number of times I boasted to peers about all-nighters makes me sick. Anymore, I keep it as cool as possible for my health: playing things down and taking situations less seriously has the magical effect of helping you actually take situations less seriously.

Over the years, I’ve learned one thing about personal investment in your job, projects or activities overall: you can give it all of your time or give it all of your stress, but not both. The cumulative tax on your body and mental health is not sustainable. If you find yourself stressing out about your work, give it time away. If you find yourself completely entrenched in working hours, find whatever way possible to breathe and relax as often as possible.

If you can’t find a way to be at peace with the way you’re spending your time, start considering serious damage control. Life is too short to sell your time, health, happiness and your soul.

Schedule Playtime

Make playtime sacred like any other meeting in your calendar. Block time out, prevent work from creeping into it and follow through. If you do not keep a calendar, make time for fun and make sure people around you know when you plan to disappear. On the quest for work-life balance, scheduling time for life is a great first step.

Scratch the Productivity Itch

All too often I find it difficult to thoroughly engage in entertainment, conversation or recreation if I jump in having left active tasks incomplete. You cannot always push plans back to make room for completing the task, but it can make a big difference in helping you enjoy yourself if you find extra time to get the job done. Better in most scenarios to show up late and fully connect with the moment than stick to the calendar with a head full of unsolved problems. Fight the habit of tardiness and never accept it as a personal trend, but forgive yourself if it means victory, understanding on the part of the people you keep waiting, and an untarnished engagement. After all, your original plans can double as a celebration if you complete the task at hand. Get it done and go have a good time.