When did being the last person to leave the office become a contest in American workplaces? Employees are clocking more hours in the office than ever before, with some 80 percent of Americans working after hours and racking up an entire extra day’s worth of work each week. And, thanks to mobile technology, we no longer have to be physically present for this to happen. Far too many of us seem willing—eager, even—to allow work to creep deeper and deeper into our personal time.

Yet, studies have shown that a 10-percent increase in overtime reduces productivity by 2.4 percent. Modern successful leaders have long recognized that “hours worked” is not an effective measure of success, but instead that the output—actually getting the job done—and work quality are more important factors. In many organizations, this shift in perspective requires a cultural change and added flexibility about what defines the workday, but it will generate better results, both individually and company-wide—not to mention increased workforce satisfaction.

So, how can we reverse the workaholic trend to help employees gain back more of the R&R time they need, while still maximizing productivity during normal business hours?

  • Cut down on useless meetings. By all accounts, useless meetings are the #1 biggest waste of time in the workplace. Paying your employees to sit around a table and talk about what they’ve been working on over the last week can be a tremendous waste of time and money, taking away from time they could be using to do actual work. Instead, use digital work management, task management or shared project-tracking tools that keep everyone up-to-date on where projects stand to keep meetings to a minimum.
  • Establish overtime policies and communicate expectations with employees. Absent a focus on avoiding overtime, employees will default to believing that working longer hours will lead to promotions, increased compensation and better job security overall. But maintaining a healthy work/life balance is critical for mental focus, sharpness, motivation and creativity. Make it clear that your company recognizes the importance of PTO and the role it plays in making them better, more productive workers and encourage employees to take it.
  • Gain visibility into utilization rates. Is your team working as efficiently as you’d like? Probably not. Parkinson’s law reminds us that work expands relative to the time allowed for its completion. But very few organizations have insight into their teams’ bandwidths to know exactly what they’re working on and how much time it takes. As a result, they continue assigning new tasks without considering existing projects and responsibilities, and before long, employees are overwhelmed to the point of paralysis. Implement a system to measure staff utilization rates to see just how effectively their time is spent. If it’s 70 to 80 percent, consider yourself fortunate to be on the upper end of the scale. Unfortunately, that’s still just 28 to 32 hours of work per week—likely far less than you’d like.
  • Allow flexible work schedules where possible. Historically, the workplace has been time-driven. Employees punched the proverbial time clock, doing the 9-to-5 routine and getting as much done in that timespan as possible. But times have changed, and today’s workplace is primarily results-driven—determining goals and putting in the hours needed to get them done. It’s not about how much you work, but about how effectively you get the work done. To support this new model, today’s workplace must be much more flexible, but it goes both ways. If employees need to take time off to care for a sick child or to attend a school function, provide this flexibility. But make it clear that if you need them to put in some extra time to hit a deadline, they should expect to return the favor.
  • Set a good example. Employees who see their managers working excessive overtime will naturally think they are expected to do the same—that those supervisors will value people who work longer hours if they themselves are putting in the extra time. But, in fact, this sets up a pattern of inefficiency, overwork and burnout all-around. Instead, proactively discuss overtime policies and expectations with your employees, and ask managers and supervisors to model good behavior. Discourage them from responding to or sending non-critical emails late at night or on weekends and encourage them to fully unplug during PTO.

At some point over the last decade, being “super-busy,” starved for time and sleep-deprived has become a badge of honor, with workweek inflation somehow making us feel more important and productive. But in reality, our overall productivity has actually suffered as a result of our workaholic culture.

It’s time to reign in the out-of-control workweek. Start by providing the right tools and policies for employees to work more effectively while they are in the office and encourage them to take the time they need to relax and recharge out of the office to maintain optimum productivity and efficiency across the board.