Ep.51- Want to Be a Better Employee? Don't Work Long Hours (3 Minute Read)

Read Time: 3 Minutes.

First of all, I understand this is not applicable to all industries due to the nature of certain functions, but the theme could still apply to all.

If you work in a team, you probably know at least one coworker who works more hours than everyone else. What do you think of this person? Well, the conventional wisdom suggests he/she is more hard working than the rest. But, could the conventional wisdom be flawed?

What about the employee that gets the project done right AND on time, all without staying late? We often miss those people, because we don't think they work as "hard."

Let me use the tale of two locksmiths to illustrate how inefficiency can disguise as working hard.



There's a tale of two locksmiths. A person needs help from a locksmith opening a lock of his, so he calls one. An amateur shows up, spending an hour fiddling around, before unlocking the lock. After it's done, the customer not only happily paid $100, but also tipped him extra, for the whole hour of "hard work."

Months later, the same person is in need of a locksmith again. So he calls. This time, a very experienced locksmith shows up, unlocks it in just one minute, instead of a whole hour. The locksmith comes forward and charges the same $100. Instead of happily paying up, the customer is agitated this time, because for $100, he feels cheated for such little work the locksmith did.

This is what often happens at our workplace: when an inefficient employee stays late, it is often seen as "working hard," just like the amateur locksmith. On the other hand, the skilled/efficient employee is seen as hardly working.



I believe the Netflix model is a great alternative to evaluate the effectiveness of employees. According to an interview with Planet Money, former Netflix Talent Chief Patty McCord says hard work is irrelevant, what really matters is output. Let me break it down in the same context of the two locksmiths, one amateur and one expert.

In the culture of Netflix, both locksmiths are evaluated on output, which is to open locks. In this world, the expert locksmith would be rewarded more, exactly because he's able to accomplish the task with high efficiency. The amateur is compensated less, even if he spent more time on the same task. 

This makes perfect sense to me. 



In the workforce, companies often notice the employees who stay longer, which is seen as a proxy for working hard. It seems rational, because it seemingly suggests the employee's devotion to work.

But I think using the number of working hours as a proxy for one's performance is a terrible way to tell a good employee from a bad one. As a matter of fact, if one stays late all the time, it would alarm me a bit, as it could be a sign of being overwhelmed or having low performance.

How can you tell if an employee is efficient but swamped, or simply inefficient? Give the same task to another member on the team, and pay attention to how much time he/she spends on it. 

I publish a new story every Friday, subscribe on Medium.