Could long hours be putting highly-regulated industries at risk?

Highly regulated industries like oil and gas and pharmaceuticals depend on processes being rigorously followed to ensure compliance with relevant legislation and protect the health and safety of stakeholders. However, the abilities of organisations to follow the rules could be being undermined.

New research suggests that long working hours are putting businesses at risk. According to Hengchen Dai and Katherine Milkman from Wharton, and Kenan-Flagler Business School professors David Hofmann and Bradley Staats, those who work intense days are likely to neglect secondary tasks, the Harvard Business Review reported. These are those things that may not be noticed by superiors but are often integral to the safety or ethics of an organisation.

The academics believe that as a worker passes through their day, their compliance with professional standards decreases. Compliance is likely to be diminished more quickly when work intensity increases or when many consecutive shifts have been worked.

When this hypothesis was tested it was found to be true, with 4,000 caregivers at 37 hospitals in the US noted as failing to complete secondary tasks as the day rumbled on.

Dai told the Harvard Business Review: “Our findings are consistent with [the] notion that this constant switching of gears can wear out our self-regulatory muscles, leading us to focus more on primary tasks and devote less attention to secondary tasks.”

The researchers believe that to combat the problem managers need to encourage employees to take time off between shifts and prevent people from working long hours. Neuroscience also teaches us that long stretches of monotonous task-fulfilment creates mental automaticity, a condition that can lead to occupational risk if workers fail to maintain a mindful state.

This is all about whole person leadership, which asserts that a person can only reach their prime performance if their health and well being is looked after. Indeed, rested individuals are more resilient, more energetic and more dynamic.  Effective leaders are often those who can still put employee needs front and centre in a high-pressure, highly-regulated industry. This helps workers feel valued and less complacent, meaning they’re more likely to follow the rules.

For more about how Primeast’s approach to leadership development could help your organisation, visit: What we do:  Leadership

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