Americans work too much — Here’s how we can change that

Americans work too much — Here’s how we can change that

American culture romanticizes overworking. At the federal level, the United States is the only country in the Americas without a government-mandated paid paternity leave. There is also no federal law requiring employers to provide paid sick time or paid time off.

At the employer level, many American organizations – particularly in Silicon Valley – encourage employees to stay at the office by eliminating the need for them to leave. Sprawling tech campuses often feature nap pods, free meals and even doctors’ offices onsite.

And at the employee level, workers frequently pride themselves on pushing past the 40-hour standard or neglecting to take time off from the workplace. In fact, according to an NPR poll, half of those who work 50-plus hours per week don’t take most or all of the vacation time available to them.

Employee health suffers due to the emphasis placed on work. One study showed an increased risk for middle-aged mental decline or dementia for those who work more than 55 hours per week. Another found that job strain can increase Type 2 diabetes risk by 45 percent. When it comes to productivity, a Stanford researcher found that employee productiving falls sharply after 55 hours of work in a week.

I could keep going, but you get the idea – too much work is unhealthy and counterproductive to the goal of increased productivity. But how does our reality compare to the workplace behaviors of Americans in the past? And how can we dial it back for our own good?

High expectations

In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted his grandchildren’s generation would enjoy a 15-hour average workweek. We fell comically short of this prediction. But why was Keynes so far off? Where have our technologies and processes gone wrong?

According to a Nintex study, employees are regularly slowed down by broken processes – from HR duties to technology difficulties to onboarding new team members. When these more mindless processes are broken, employees spend precious work time running around trying to fix them so work can get moving again.

Some of the top culprits include equipment onboarding for new hires (43 percent believe their process to be broken), new hire paperwork (43 percent), document sharing (43 percent) and submitting expenses (28 percent).

The cumulative effort invested in these broken processes by workers of all levels creates a vast waste of time, setting back productivity. Beyond just wasted time, however, it also causes many employees to reconsider their futures in the organization.  

More than two-thirds of the study’s respondents say their company’s broken processes prevent them from maximizing their potential, with 25 percent strongly feeling that broken processes preclude them from achieving their potential. As a result, a full 53 percent of employees don’t see themselves staying at their current companies longer than five years

How do we stop spending so many work hours battling broken processes, only to bail on our employers? We automate low-level burdensome tasks that take away workers’ time from high-level, strategy-based initiatives. As it turns out, there are plenty of opportunities for improvement, specifically when it comes to process automation.

5 places we can free up human workers

Automation can be applied to countless processes to improve the workload of employees everywhere. From no-code automation to more advanced intelligent process automation, here are some key places organizations can start taking the burden off their employees.

  1. Deprovision past employees. Deprovisioning employees who have left the company is a crucial step that organizations must take to prevent the consequences of data theft.However, depending on how many tools and privileges a former employee had access to, erasing their entire footprint can be a tough process. The good news is that this task can be automated to save the HR manager’s time so he can focus on strategy-centric projects.
  2. Share and manage documents. In the era of the cloud, we’re accustomed to sharing limitless documents with multiple people in a moment.However, that gets trickier when it comes to documents that only exist in paper form – especially in a sensitive situation like a fraud investigation. Automation tools allow for organizations to digitize all their documents into a library and create customer workflows depending on the type of document.
  3. Guide the contract process. Regardless of the type of deal they document, contracts are notorious for requiring many iterations. In a scenario with lengthy negotiations, the process can quickly descend into chaos and confusion.However, automating the process allows the computer to handle the workflow. With process automation, technology minimizes human interaction by learning who should receive documents and contract revisions.
  4. Complete expense reports. Expense reports often involve detailed processes. Any internal accountant knows the headache that goes into tracking down each employee to ask them for missing details.Intelligent automation allows the computer to learn what kind of expense reports can be approved on the spot. For example, any expense report from a traveling sales reps which include a flight can be automatically approved, thanks to the system’s automated learning capabilities.
  5. Prepare for audits. Any worker who has been on the receiving end of an audit can attest to how time-consuming and stressful they are. Annual compliance audits require a plethora of time and organization over the course of the year to ensure that all documentation is in the right place and filled out correctly.Once the audit starts, however, team members inevitably find themselves scrambling to meet the audit team’s document requests, while still managing their own daily job requirements. Process automation ensures that everything is in place ahead of time with deadlines and reminders from a system that understands what must be in place.

While our work culture normalizes long hours and little time off, these conditions don’t do any favors for employees or organizations. The working world can’t reach peak productivity until burdensome and mindless tasks are taken off workers’ plates.

Who knows? With the right technology, we might move a little closer to the world John Maynard Keynes had in mind.

Read next: The world's oldest active torrent file is still going strong after 15 years