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I’m calling for the end of overtime

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There has been a lot of talk lately about over-working – particular after a Merrill Lynch intern was found dead in his apartment following reports he had worked long hours for three days in a row.

While his death hasn’t been explicitly linked to his work, it does serve as a good wake up call to the rest of us.

It wasn’t unusual to see employees pick up the slack around the office during the downturn, when many companies had to streamline their headcount. However, I think there’s more to it than just the workload.

This culture of having to “show face” in the office has been ingrained into the Asian working DNA. I’ve heard countless stories of junior employees who were too afraid to leave the office before their boss for fear of being perceived as someone who wasn’t dedicated to their job.

But why are we still stuck in the mindset that work can only be done within the four walls of your office? How certain are you that just because an employee is at his desk that he is a contributing member of your workforce?

Clearly, we’re not living in a perfect world where all our work can be done before the end of the official workday. There have been days where I’ve had to stay a couple of hours in the office to wrap up a feature, take a conference call or prepare for an event.

But those days are far and few in between, and a lot of it stems from the culture of the company. My managers are often out of the office by six in the evening, and encourage the rest of their teams to do the same.

With a survey last year discovering 60% of Singaporeans suffer from high levels of stress, and a report yesterday revealing up to 78% of Singaporeans in the financial services industry work overtime, it’s probably about time you stopped to review your workplace practices.

Your employees may not have struck everything off their to-do list, but here’s the thing – there’s still tomorrow. If a task can wait until the morning, then let it. If an employee is always reliable and meets his or her deadlines, then what’s the problem?

I would much rather work with a team I know have had their evenings to indulge their interests or simply have some time off, than one where its members are disconnected, mentally exhausted and resentful of their job.

As the weekend draws near, it’s a good time to plan for better work-life next month. Of course, the onus doesn’t just fall on the leaders of an organisation, but once employees are able to see that work-life balance is something cascading from the top down, I’m pretty sure we’ll be well on our way towards a more productive and fulfilled workforce.

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