Store manager seeks to promote the efficiency of his employees by keeping them from overworking


January 07, 1991|By Ellen James Martin

At the Custom Shop in downtown Baltimore, manager John Sizemore makes sure his employees work no more than 40 hours a week and don't take their work home in their briefcases. There are to be no workaholics at the Custom Shop.

"This company tries to spread work out as much as possible so no one gets burned out," emphasizes the 26-year-old Mr. Sizemore, who heads the retail outlet specializing in custom-made men's and women's shirts. Just as he seeks to work smart rather than work long, he emphasizes the same for his subordinates.

An employee who works too much or works under the duress of a workaholic boss will ultimately prove less rather than more productive, Mr. Sizemore says. In the short run, such an employee is likely to find excuses to evade work and may take excessive sick leave. Over the longer term, he is likely to leave his position sooner than he would have, forcing the company to bear the cost of finding and training a replacement, he says.

The Custom Shop, with three employees, emphasizes personalized customer service. In such an environment, a burned-out or harried employee could cost the company a substantial amount of sales, Mr. Sizemore says.

A true workaholic -- one who overworks out of a compulsion to work rather than pure enjoyment -- is mistaken in thinking his long hours help the company, says Mr. Sizemore. In fact, the driven workaholic introduces stress to the workplace, which in turn cuts into the productivity of those who work for or with him, he says.

To be sure that he doesn't operate like a workaholic manager, Mr. Sizemore ensures that his work and play time are kept separate and that he has time for recreation. Although he schedules himself carefully during weekday business hours, he enjoys open time for spontaneous activities on the weekend. For instance, he might spend a Saturday padding around his downtown Baltimore apartment -- perhaps watching a video, playing Nintendo or chatting with a friend on the phone. Later, he might drive out of town for sightseeing or to visit friends.

"The pressure that a workaholic manager puts on himself is going to filter down to his employees," Mr. Sizemore says.

Mr. Sizemore isn't the only manager who sees the long-term benefit of protecting his own free time and that of his employees. Another is Paul Couglin, chairman of Washington Aluminum Co. in Arbutus, a fabricator of custom aluminum products.

"My philosophy is to train people to work smart and then they can do a good job in the time allotted. When you get people beyond seven or eight hours, their efficiency gets pretty low and they start to begrudge the amount of time that they're putting in -- especially if they have a family," says Mr. Couglin, adding that he also guards against overwork on his own part.

To be sure, there are "positive workaholics" who benefit their organizations, management consultants say. Many successful people are highly motivated by their work and, as a consequence, have a large capacity for work. These are often high-energy individuals who adhere to a "work hard, play hard" philosophy. Although they work hard, they have little difficulty letting go of their work during weekends, holidays or vacation times.

On the other hand, true workaholics typically are driven individuals for whom work is a compulsion or addiction. They can't shift from work for relaxation or recreation without feeling anxiety or guilt, and they often impair their organizations in the short run and long run as well, says Jody Johns of the Maryland Consulting Group in Timonium.

True workaholics are often motivated by a psychological or personal problem, says Ms. Johns.

"The issue may be some deep-seated need in their makeup not related to the work itself. The workaholic may be trying to satisfy his father who died 20 years ago. Maybe his current domestic situation is unsatisfying. Maybe he is trying to avoid criticism, censure or failure. A lot of people are afraid that if they let up for a minute, they might fail. So they immerse themselves in work, which is a socially sanctioned activity," she says.

Under pressure from his family or friends, a true workaholic may take a vacation but will generally bring his job along in one form or another, says Dr. Maxie C. Maultsby, head of psychiatry at the Howard University School of Medicine in Washington. Either the workaholic will carry books and papers with him or he'll get on the phone to speak with colleagues. The workaholic's identity is closely tied to his job, Dr. Maultsby observes.

However, that level of compulsiveness seldom pays off. The effectiveness of many workaholics is impaired because of the stress, fatigue and attitudinal problems that set in when someone spends too much time working.

"They're so tired, so bogged down in the day-to-day nits and nats that they're no longer seeing the big picture. They get tunnel vision," Ms. Johns says.

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