BBC published an interesting article recently that challenges how many of us view work. Jill Duffy, in her article, “What wartime ‘munitionettes’ can teach us about burnout,” asserts continuous overworking hurts employees and employers because it leads to less productive employees in addition to making them vulnerable to a number of health issues. Duffy references a 2015 study of worker data from World War I to support her position. The study analyzed production of wartime munitionettes (manual laborers assisting with the manufacturing of weapons and ammunition) to conclude that output peaked at 40 hours of work per week and then fell for those hours worked beyond 40. Production dropped 13.5% to 17% when workers toiled for seven days without a day off.  Duffy observes “one-hundred years on, the results of overwork don’t seem to be all that different for knowledge workers.” Further, while manual laborers like the munitionettes could better track hours worked weekly, knowledge workers cannot because they are expected to respond to work-related emails or text messages at all times, even on weekends and vacation. Duffy notes these expectations are often those of the employer or the professional culture of the workplace. Any change to an overwork culture will have to be driven by the employer and managers.

The notion is contrary to the history of professional workplace culture but it makes sense. In a time when employers are searching for employees due to the low unemployment rate and wishing to retain talent, it is incumbent upon employers to begin thinking more creatively.  Presumably, an employer who adopted the attitude Duffy avows would find a loyal workforce and have less trouble with recruitment and retention. I have practiced law for 28 years and always been of the mindset when it came to work that “more is more.” I am the knowledge worker Duffy describes. But employers today are going to have to change how things are done to address the recruiting and retention issues they face, especially in light of the mindset of many of the sharpest workers they wish to attract.

Join Perry MacLennan and me for a conversation where we will explore a number of innovative ideas to recruit and retain talent, and the legal issues associated with them, next Tuesday in Greenville or Anderson in conjunction with the “Beyond Compliance” thought series sponsored by Anderson University or next Thursday afternoon at the South Carolina SHRM Conference in Myrtle Beach.