Do startups take the idea of “hard work” a little too literally?

A lot has been written about ‘startup life’ and the emotional and physical demand that starting a company can have on a person. There is no doubt, building a successful company will take a lot of hard work, but does the ‘startup world’ take “hard work” a little too literally?

We’ve all heard the saying “work smart, not hard”, and I can’t help but wonder if more entrepreneurs could learn a little from it. One of the great things about building a company is that it becomes your entire world - but it’s also important to make sure you’re working effectively, not working yourself into a burnout. All the success in the world won’t mean much if you’re too sick to enjoy it.

If you’re not working 15 hour days, are you not working hard enough? Does it make you a “wantrepreneur”? There’s certainly a “badge of honor” associated with all-nighters, not enough sleep and startup stress, but is it necessary?

Does more work increase the chance of success?

Whilst thinking about this topic I came across two vastly opposing blog posts. One is written by Ryan Carson, who talks about why his company Treehouse implemented 4 day work weeks. The other was written by Michael Arrington and is entitled “Startups are Hard. So work more, cry less and quit the whining”.

I have a problem with these articles, because they assume that the “path to success” is binary. One assumes that the only path to success is sleepless nights, stress and a lot of tears, and the other assumes that sleepless nights, tears and too much hard work will cause burnout and inevitable failure.

As I said before, there’s a certain “bravado” attached to this type of hard work - but companies should be careful that “work time” is productive and enjoyable. Entrepreneurs, especially young ones, often feel that being at the office more is what’s important. Staying late, drinking beers and playing ping pong, whilst undoubtedly fun - isn’t actually productive work time. Would you be better off at home spending time with your family, or catching up on well-needed sleep?

Three ways you can promote more work-life balance within your company

This is perhaps the most important thing to think about if you’re a leader at a company. You need to promote your people to work hard, but you can’t burn them out. It’s a tricky balance, that’s for sure.

1. Promote a healthy/balanced lifestyle
We’ve all heard the saying, “happy workers are good workers” - and for startups it couldn’t be more true. Yep, startups are pretty stressful at times - so keeping healthy and balanced is critical.

Make sure that your team feels free to take regular breaks and have the time to exercise. It’s nothing revolutionary, but providing a gym-card and healthy snacks around the office can go a long way to building a healthy, happy and productive team.    

2. Promote the idea of “office hours”
Yes, one of the things we all love about startups is the flexibility. For founders, your company is your world, you live and breathe it 24 hours a day. However, it’s important to recognize that the same doesn’t apply for your entire team, especially as you grow into a bigger company. Yes, your employees should be passionate, but no - you can’t ask them to work late into the night, every night. Many startups feel that “rigid office hours” are the antithesis of startups, and that office hours are reserved for the corporate world, however consistent and predictable working times will help make your team more productive.

3. Remember, quality always trumps quantity!
Far too many startups focus on quantity - all nighters and weekends at the office are commonplace. Those are great, especially for founders, and especially in the early days. However, as we’ve already noted - forcing these behaviors on your later-stage employees can be ineffective. wrote a great piece on this topic a few years back, and this is one of my favorite quotes:

“By the eighth hour of the day, people’s best work is usually already behind them (typically turned in between hours 2 and 6). In Hour 9, as fatigue sets in, they’re only going to deliver a fraction of their usual capacity. And with every extra hour beyond that, the workers’ productivity level continues to drop, until at around 10 or 12 hours they hit full exhaustion.”

So, if you’re running a startup or a team - make sure you work hard to promote work-life balance. It will repay you in the long run.

As always, feel free to tweet to us if you have any feedback on these thoughts.

Ludvig Granberg, CEO PagePicnic

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