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Here is an important question for CEOs: Why do your best managers go home every day feeling badly about what they didn’t get done instead of going home feeling good about what they did get done?

We all know that there are only 24 hours in a day. But we don’t always take that to heart. In busy times, managers are expected to roll up their sleeves and put in the long hours required to meet deadlines and get the work done. The understanding is that in less busy times, they’ll be able to work less or take time off. There should be a balancing effect. However, in reality, the busy times never seem to end, and managers are often lucky to get a Sunday off! This isn’t fair to employees, or the organization.

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How do managers become overwhelmed in the first place?

Typically, at the beginning of each year, managers set annual goals and objectives with their subordinate managers. They take into account the existing workload, but often fail to take into account unexpected priorities that may arise throughout the year. As new priorities are identified, managers are often given additional work to do to meet emerging requirements. Before you know it, they’re working a 60-hour week just to keep up.

Get off the treadmill

In theory, an effective manager should be able to get their work done in a 40 hour work week. So, since you can’t add more hours to a day, what can be done?

Set the requirements

It comes down to effective management. Managers need to set the context of how to prioritize workload (their own and their subordinates) in order to meet all objectives, and need to ask the following questions:

  • What is needed for the organization to be successful?
  • What is the work that the managers should be doing?
  • Who determines what this work is that needs to be done?

Re-prioritize as new priorities come up

When new priorities come up throughout the year, managers must continually re-evaluate capacity, and then inform their subordinate managers on how existing priorities and objectives are going to change to accommodate the changing requirements. This doesn’t happen nearly often enough. What typically happens instead is that everything becomes a priority, and the subordinate managers are left to figure out how to do it all. It puts them in the absolutely no-win situation of not having the time or the resources to do everything. They end up choosing what the priorities should be – a task that is the manager’s job – or possibly even worse, trying to do everything but at a lower level of quality.

Communication is a two-way street

There needs to be an ongoing two-way conversation between the manager and each subordinate manager. The subordinate manager needs to communicate whether meeting all the objectives is realistic, and the reporting manager needs to provide guidance on how to reprioritize the work.

Managers are an integral part of every organization and deserve to be set up for success at every turn. By examining the real cause of their overwhelming workload, continually re-evaluating priorities, and keeping open communication lines with their senior leaders, managers can really make the 40-hour work week a reality.

Can the 40 Hour Week be a Reality?

Most organizations have an official 40 hour work week. For entry level workers, it is pretty clear that the organization-employee contract ids that the employee will report for work for those 40 hours, and use their best efforts to do the work that is assigned. In return, the organization pays the employee compensation and benefits. If more hours of work are required, overtime is paid according to labour standard or other forms of policy.

For professional, non-managerial positions, the situation is more mixed. In some cases, the work week is quite fixed. In others, professionals may be expected to put in more time when demand is high and “make up for it” when demand is low.

For managerial positions, the norm is that the manager is paid for the job, and the manager decides how many hours are required to do the work. This has come to mean in most organizations that managers who “pull their weight” work significantly more hours than the official work week.

Don’t get me wrong, managers should have a choice to work longer. They may choose to demonstrate competence, enthusiasm, and ambition in a number of ways, one of them being to give “over and above” minimum expectations. It only becomes a problem when the organizational culture somehow dictates that to be a team player, you are in the office late, and on Saturdays, and always available by email. This creates a false business model that is not sustainable.