Executive Coaching Tip – Is Working Long Hours Counterproductive?

An important executive coaching principle is that when you have too much to do for the time available, working harder or longer is not always the best choice.

Working harder or longer can lead to decreased productivity because we are not machines. When we are constantly overloaded with too much work, our productivity can quickly begin to suffer.

This is particularly true in knowledge and executive work, where creativity, concentration, ingenuity, and problem solving are essential parts of the job.

Some studies have suggested that performance can decrease by as much as 25% when executives and knowledge workers work an excess of 60 hours per week for prolonged periods of time. This performance degradation can often negate all the benefits of the extra time spent at the office.

The cause of the decreased productivity is often physical and mental fatigue, which leads to slower work, more mistakes, and wasted time.

Another common problem is “presenteeism,” where people are physically present at work but distracted and unfocused. While the term is usually reserved for people who show up for work despite being sick, the concept is also applicable for executives who show up for work while physically or mentally fatigued.

Since presenteeism prevents executives from concentrating and becoming fully engaged in their work, they may be putting in the long hours but not really accomplishing much during that extra time.

While it is sometimes necessary to put in extra hours at work to complete a critical project or meet an important deadline, you need to ensure that it is an exception and not your normal way of working.

Here is a very insightful article by Evan Robinson, where he discusses why “crunch mode” in computer game development is a counterproductive management strategy.


This is not only true of game development, but most industries as well, which is why Robinson argues that most industries gave up this “crunch mode” working practice long ago. It’s an important executive coaching concept that top executives should not ignore if they want to perform at their best.

The main takeaways from this article are…

  • Takeaway # 1 – Productivity starts to go down each day after 4-6 hours of continuous work. After enough hours, productivity goes to zero or may even become negative due to extra errors & mistakes.
  • Takeaway # 2 – Productivity is very hard to measure for knowledge workers because of the creative and problem solving nature of the work.
  • Takeaway # 3 – Five-day weeks of eight-hour days seems to produce maximum productivity in virtually every industry where worker productivity has been studied.
  • Takeaway # 4 – At 60 hours per week, the loss in productivity overtakes the extra work hours in a matter of months. At 80 hours per week, it can happen much faster.
  • Takeaway # 5 – Lack of sleep leads to cognitive impairment and reduced productivity
  • Takeaway # 6 – Error rates and mistakes increase with hours worked and especially when combined with lack of adequate sleep

Your executive coach can help you balance your work requirements with adequate rest and renewal so you avoid this all too common problem among executives and you can perform at your best when you are working.

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