Question: When is someone who works less hours the better employee?

Answer:  When they focus on efficiency, not time.

I advise young founding CEOs, either in my role as interim COO or as a “CEO Coach.”  A common issue they raise is their frustration with an employee who does not work incredibly long hours.  I struggled with this until I recalled that, when I was their age, I felt the same way!  I’ve been managing since I was 23 and, for about a decade, I too was impressed with an employee who worked the longest hours.

But then I hired Chris Pooley and he taught me that efficiency was more important than hours.  Chris was upfront with his intention to focus on efficiency, not time.  And he was right; Chris was a star performer and he went on to a very successful career.

Since then, I’ve focused on teaching young people how to be more efficient with their time; how to develop techniques and processes that allow them to get more work done in less time.  And I encourage them to spend those extra few hours enjoying a life outside of work.

Yes, I agree that in a startup everyone needs to work long hours.  But I encourage founding CEOs to appreciate an employee who gets more work done in less time vs. an employee who works long hours, but isn’t efficient.

Am I always able to convince the founding CEO of my view? Usually.  But I have my work cut out for me when the CEO himself is a “long hours but inefficient” person!


3 Responses to “Question: When is someone who works less hours the better employee?”

  1. Jason Evanish Says:

    Great point, Des.

    Looking forward to hearing/reading some of those “be more efficient” tips! I think many Young Entrepreneurs could use to learn that; we have a bad habit of just grinding every waking moment.


  2. John Prendergast Says:


    Its a good post and something we’ve been talking about at Blueleaf. I think the bottom line is the focus needs to be on outputs, not inputs. Time spent is an input.

    The other main consideration is cultural fit or team chemistry. Someone who is too far outside the norms, even in a small organization, can be destructive no matter how productive.

    Its a balancing act.

  3. Farnaz Bakhtari Says:


    Thanks for the great post.

    I think employees don’t necessary have different types though. For example I think you can put engineers in different environments and see different levels of both productivity and time-spent-at-work from them.
    Specially in small companies if the CEO has what it takes to inspire employees he/she can get much more productivity from them.
    In my opinion a CEO who spends her/his time worrying about how much time people spend at work and who tries to keep them in the office using all kinds of tricks, probably is focusing on the wrong indications in his/her company’s success.


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