Scientific studies have shown that humans can’t focus for longer than 90 minutes before needing a break. Because we have natural variations in our alertness, our output tends to give diminishing returns beyond a certain time span.
We are not unidimensional beings. We have multiple things that interest us and multiple people in our lives. It’s important that we see our work as one part of the day - not the centre of our existence. And, as employers and team leaders, it’s crucial to encourage our team to create that balance instead of subtly mandating a “first in, last out” approach to measure hard work and success.
When we make sure that team members are spending a healthy amount of time outside of work, we end up getting the best out of them. Nobody can function at their best if they’re in a do-this-or-else situation. No one is able to do their best if their cortisol levels are high, and there are plenty of studies that show that overworked people are not productive. Lack of rest and recharge leads to more mistakes, lack of focus, and a higher likelihood of quitting.
It is important that we shift to a more holistic way of measuring success. Does your team have enough time outside of work? Are they physically and mentally healthy? Do they enjoy what they do?
If you are a team leader, I recommend encouraging the team to pursue non-work activities that use different parts of their brain. Getting fresh air, meeting people, exercise, music, dance, comedy - these are all natural ways to boost dopamine and serotonin levels in the body. You can also encourage them to pick up new skills like cooking, bread making, or calligraphy - any non-work hobby that they enjoy. Detail oriented tasks like building Legos or completing jigsaw puzzles can also help build focus while they recharge.
Having meaningful interests outside of work helps everyone become happier and create more positive environments for themselves and those around them. It also helps enjoy work more, become more productive, and potentially even form connections with work.
In the last few years, there has been a change in the way we see work. People have realigned their priorities, and work is now one of many things in the day - not the only thing. As a team leader or entrepreneur, it is important to shift the lens from time served to employee well-being. No one becomes less productive when they stop centering their lives around work. It just means that we, as leaders, have to work harder to understand people’s motivations and support them. We are more than just our job titles and our collective work-related output; we have families to care for, passions to pursue, personal aspirations like running a marathon or climbing a mountain. All these things together make up a complete person.
When we start seeing our team members as complete people, and not just the parts of them that make them an employee, we contribute to their self-esteem and overall happiness. Everyone likes to feel appreciated and valued for who they are. And happy people are always more motivated and productive.
Rather than measuring hours spent at the desk, it’s time that we shift to understanding the ways in which we can create healthy boundaries between work and life - for ourselves and our teams. It isn’t just good for everyone’s mental health, it is also great for the business as a whole.