Management Myth 15: I Need People to Work Overtime


I’m Invested; Why Aren’t They?
When your managers ask why people don’t work long hours, they often think people aren’t “invested” in the organization. One senior executive asked me this question, “I’m invested. Why aren’t the people in my organization as invested as I am?” I asked him if he had open book management. Did people know the purpose of all the projects and where the money went? “No.” I asked him if shared all the profits equally. He looked horrified. “No, of course not. I started this company. I should own more of it. I deserve the sweat equity.”

I asked him why he thought everyone should be as invested as he was. He was keeping the lion’s share of the profits. Why did he think everyone would be as invested as he was?

Now, we all know that people don’t primarily work for money. As Dan Pink explained in Drive, as long as you are paid enough money, you work for mastery, autonomy and purpose. But if the senior managers are tracking time and not results, and they are attempting to reward the technical staff with money, they are not allowing the people to work for mastery. The people don’t have sufficient autonomy. And, I suspect there is inadequate purpose in what people are doing. When I had that conversation, the executive walked away, concerned.

It takes a different kind of investment, doesn’t it?

What’s the Real Problem?
When a manager wants people to work overtime, to feel invested in an organization, what’s the real issue behind the words? It might be that the manager wants people to have the same sense of investment in the organization as the manager does. In that case, it’s useful to ask, am I creating an environment where people feel autonomous? Do they have purpose? Are they mastering their craft?

It might not be that at all. It could be an issue of project portfolio management, where people are spread so thinly around so many projects that they don’t have time for any single project. If so, see if your manager is caught up in the myth of 100 percent utilization.

Sometimes, managers think they can measure people by the time they spend at work. Wanting people to work overtime is related to that myth. When you force people to timebox their work to just the workday, they start making choices about the work they do and don’t do. They stop doing time-wasting work. They start doing useful work, and they start collaborating. But, only if you stop interfering.

Remember, only adults work in your organization. If you want different results, look at the environment you have created. Does it allow for autonomy, mastery, and purpose? If not, what do you need to do?



Read more of Johanna's management myth columns here:

User Comments

Keith Collyer's picture
Keith Collyer

The previous commenter didn't prove that "what we all know" is wrong, but that we don't all know what we all know ;) Despite the many, many published research results showing quite unequivocally that money (once you have "enough") is not an effective reward (and may even be counter-productive), so many people refuse to believe it. Indeed, unless the previous commenter works for Goldman Sachs, he probably proves it himself.

March 22, 2013 - 12:46pm
Kenneth Katz's picture
Kenneth Katz

"Now, we all know that people don’t primarily work for money."

If that's the case, then we what "we all know" is incorrect. Have you ever noticed that companies that try to hire engineers and other techies at $75,000 per year are constantly complaining about a shortage of candidates, but Goldman Sachs never complains about a shortage of candidates? I doubt it is because investment banking is actually all that pleasant or interesting a career.

I don't hate my job, coworkers, manager or company; actually quite to the contrary. I'm a professional and I approach my job accordingly. But my job is first and foremost about the money, not self-actualization.

March 19, 2013 - 12:51pm

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