Humans are a curious bunch. Throughout our storied history, we’ve often modeled our behavior off doctrines for decades, if not centuries, before questioning why or setting out to disprove them. These myths and superstitions have led to what today we would consider ridiculous behavior or foolish beliefs; like avoiding cracks in the sidewalk, not handling toads so as not to get warts, or imbibing in the hair of the dog (both literally to heal that dog bite or figuratively to heal that hangover).
Just as placing some hair of the dog that bit you into your dog bite (and cracking that beer first thing in the morning) isn’t going to cure your wound (or your pounding headache), there are a number of myths that pervade your office that may actually be doing more harm than good. Many of these office myths might make sense at first glance, but result in some surprising consequences that hamper productivity and employee morale.
Office Myth #1: Open offices lead to more productive workers
In the modern office, the cubicle is dead, and good riddance. When offices first started breaking down walls and opening spaces, they did so because more access to natural light, less isolation, and higher rates of collaboration were proven benefits. This is all better for the physical and mental health of employees. But it doesn’t necessarily correlate with an increase in productivity. Open offices bring with them an array of distractions that serve barriers to productivity, including increased noise, unwelcome smells, and unscheduled drop-ins by other coworkers. Companies can solve this by providing an array of spaces for activity-based working.
Office Myth #2: Salary is tied to happiness
It makes perfect sense that high quality work should be rewarded with commensurate compensation. But what many companies don’t consider is that compensation can and should come in forms besides just an employee’s salary. In addition to outward displays of appreciation for their work, employees rate elements such as work-life balance, good relationships with colleagues and superiors, learning opportunities, and job security above salary when rating the top factors for job happiness. In fact, recent research has even found that there is a measurable benchmark to employee happiness tied to salary. After a particular point, money won’t make employees any happier. It’s up to the other factors to motivate and inspire.
Office Myth #3: The more hours at work, the more work done
Office workers today often report one of their greatest work stressors is balancing the desire to get home to their families against the guilt tied to putting in long hours at the office, especially if they see their colleagues are doing the same. It’s natural to not want to be the first person to leave the office for the evening, but this breeds an unhealthy office culture. It’s also counter-productive. Not only do longer hours crush morale, they don’t even offer the benefit of higher levels of productivity. Employees who actually have the highest levels of productivity don’t even work for eight hours a day. In fact, office workers who rated highest in productivity were the ones found to take regular breaks and work less hours. These workers took an average of a 17-minute break for every 52 minutes of work and were only at the office for a total of six hours. This is precisely why a town in Sweden has recently enacted a six-hour workday for all of their office workers.
Office Myth #4: Showing up is half the battle
While it may seem that remote working is the status quo of the future, some companies are still hesitant to offer flexible work from home options. When Marissa Mayer started her new tenure as Yahoo CEO in 2013, she caused an uproar when she banned working from home. The belief is that remote workers are less engaged, and leaders like Mayer felt that it stymied collaboration. In fact, the opposite is true. Even Yahoo has softened its stance in recent years. Employees who work from home have proven to be even more engaged than their office-bound counterparts. Remote workers are over 13% more productive than they were in the office according to research, likely because eliminating commuting time and office distractions lead to an increase in time spent working. As an added bonus, it greatly increases employee morale, offering flexibility and demonstrating trust. The option of telecommuting is so attractive to employees, it’s a huge factor for smaller companies hoping to attract the considerations of top talent.
Office Myth #5: Multitaskers are the best workers
Have you ever tried to hold a conversation with someone who is scrolling through his or her phone? This scenario alone should be an argument against the efficacy of productive multitasking. Multitaskers are distracted and unable to devote their full attention and necessary time to the tasks. Sitting on a strategy call while answering emails means you’re not fully participating in the call and you’re not fully absorbing any important information that may be in your email. Something always suffers, and multitaskers typically end up taking more time to complete a single task than those who devote their time singularly. Or worse, they don’t complete anything well.
Office Myth #6: Putting your head down is the best way to get it done
Many employees believe the best way to get a job done is to just sit down and do it. While there is truth to hunkering down and eliminating distractions, you can also hinder your own productivity by lacking the flexibility you need to work best. As mentioned above, short breaks peppered throughout the day are paramount for productivity. Don’t eat lunch at your desk. A common saying today is that sitting is the new smoking. This applies to your health, and we believe, to your productivity. When you take your break, walk to the other side of the room, get the blood flowing, and move as much as you can. The greatest orators throughout history have said that standing up helps speakers deliver more effective messaging. The same can be said of hashing out thoughts, preparing a presentation, or writing an article. You may find that boost in energy equals a boost in mental clarity.
Knowing the most dangerous workplace myths are the first step in eliminating them. With the right knowledge and strategy in mind, you can foster a workplace of the future and an environment of productivity and happy employees.