Work/Life Balance

Breaking 24/7 Work Mindset Can Aid Retention, Benefit Clients, Study Finds

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Fenwick & West may be on to something.

At the Silicon Valley law firm, “workflow coordinators” review lawyers’ hours in an effort to “avert overload,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Such approaches may make sense, a new study suggests.

The four-year study by Boston Consulting Group found “a paradoxical truth applies: To get more done, we need to stop working so much,” the newspaper reports.

The study, published in the Harvard Business Review’s October issue, considered the effect of forcing members of 12 Boston Consulting teams to take a block of predictable time off every work week—no checking of e-mails or voice mail allowed. In one case, every consultant on a team had to take off a day in the middle of a work week; in others, at least one evening had to be set aside with no work interruptions.

The study found that the consultants had to do a better job of planning ahead and streamlining work, resulting in better communications and client service.

After five months, the consultants were more satisfied with their jobs and more likely to stay with the company, the study found.

Harvard Business School professor Leslie Perlow led the study. She told the newspaper the study wasn’t intended to eliminate the “good intensity” in work that comes from constant learning and “being in the thick of things.” Instead, researchers focused on “bad intensity”—the feeling of having no time and no control over work.

“Professionals accept the bad intensity without hesitation, believing it comes with the territory,” Perlow wrote in the Harvard Business Review article.

“This only perpetuates a vicious cycle: Responsiveness breeds the need for more responsiveness. When people are ‘always on,’ responsiveness becomes ingrained in the way they work, expected by clients and partners, and even institutionalized in performance metrics. There is no impetus to explore whether the work actually requires 24/7 responsiveness; to the contrary, people just work harder and longer, without considering how they could work better.

“Yet, what we discovered is that the cycle of 24/7 responsiveness can be broken if people collectively challenge the mind-set. Furthermore, new ways of working can be found that benefit not just individuals but the organization, which gains in quality and efficiency—and, in the long run, experiences higher retention of more of its best people.”

Related coverage: “Study Offers Tips About How Lawyers Can Succeed as Part-Time Partners”

Updated at 2:40 p.m. to link to subsequent post.

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