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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Workplace Doctor: Transition from start-up challenges time management

The longer it takes for the new company to evolve, the more difficult it becomes to make the critical adjustments required to prevent burnout

Working overly long hours for too long can lead to depression and isolation and also impact business efficiency and staff performance. Dan Kitwood/Getty
Working overly long hours for too long can lead to depression and isolation and also impact business efficiency and staff performance. Dan Kitwood/Getty

Our company is relatively new and when we started it was necessary to work very long hours to get the venture off the ground. But over the past three years since launch, the working hours have not decreased and it seems to have become an accepted norm that team members regularly work longer than they are contracted to do and in most instances are in the office longer than is required to effectively do their jobs. Many are beginning to complain and I believe morale and therefore performance is being undermined. What can be done?

BD, Ajman

Well done for being part of a successful start-up which has no doubt required a significant amount of dedication, hard work and long hours.

Start-ups by nature are invariably resource constrained as they work towards establishing themselves into a viable and stable business. This often means that they have to make do with scarce people resources to successfully deliver on their multitude of commitments.

In order to successfully evolve from a start-up to a mature business, an essential transition is necessary; from doing whatever it takes to getting things done, to putting the systems and appropriate resources in place that get things done. Attempting to sustain growth by excessively driving existing resources and ways of working inevitably leads to service and quality challenges, people burnout and underperformance.

The necessary transition is easier said than done, as start-ups tend to develop patterns of working that, as you have pointed out, quickly and often unconsciously, become the accepted norm. However, the longer it takes for the start-up to evolve, the more difficult it becomes to make the critical adjustments; often resulting in a negative shift as a result of a crisis. The crisis could be the loss of key people or talent who become dissatisfied for whatever reason - in your case due to the implicit long-hours culture.

Research by global workplace provider Regus, which surveyed over 44,000 business people from more than 100 countries, found that worldwide, working long hours has become the norm, with most staff doing at least a small amount of overtime every week. Consistently working long hours allows no time to recharge and be ready to face new daily challenges. Other than impacting morale and performance as you are describing, it can also affect both your physical and mental health, and even increase the risk of a heart-attack. Without enough relaxation and enjoyment, stress levels will rise and there is an elevated risk of developing depression. Far from achieving more by working longer, mental abilities can decline the more time you spend at work. Therefore, it is really important to find a solution to the current situation.

In some start-up environments, in particular during challenging economic cycles as we are currently experiencing across the region, solutions requiring additional resources may simply not be viable. This scenario will require team members to develop a greater level of personal resilience in order to perform and thrive within these challenging conditions. Often, being challenged is part of what triggers resilience as a skill. Fortunately, resilience can be learned by acquiring a specific set of behaviours and attitudes. These include being optimistic, managing difficult emotions, remaining balanced and feeling socially supported.

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To improve the situation, a number of actions will be required to shift this pattern. Firstly, understand the type and degree of change that is necessary to re-establish team morale and commitment to sustained high performance. Secondly, elicit team members’ ideas, suggestions and recommendations as to how the situation could be improved, so that you are armed with viable solutions and are not just communicating problems. Thirdly, find an effective way to raise the awareness of the increasing complaints and eroding morale, with those who can influence or make a difference – presumably the owner/s or someone close to them. It would be helpful to identify individuals who have a trusted relationship with the key stakeholders, and are willing to raise the concern as well as offer potential solutions.

Doctor’s prescription:

Agree the most appropriate person/s, environment and time to share both the issue and recommended solutions. Work towards a positive resolution and an agreement on next steps that can be communicated back to the team.

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