Grind Culture Will Destroy Your Agile Team
Grinding away will destroy your team’s focus and productivity
What is grind culture? A client of mine told me his story (I asked if I could share it and he’s ok with it). He says:
The story goes back about 8 years. I worked around the clock as a business development consultant. My wife was expecting. Things were stressful.
But the colleagues were nice, we were achieving things, the boss made good money and I was building my CV.
We told each other stories about the accountant who broke his back but was able to work from a specially designed hospital bed. Or how one colleague was able to slip away to the office just one hour after his wife had given birth to their child. I also remember myself slipping away from family dinners to make a phone call.
With the baby coming, I made a decision. I liked the work but agreed with my boss to cut back to 45 hrs per week (in Denmark the work week is officially 37 hrs). So, I actually turned off the phone in the evenings and wrote no emails after 7 PM. And almost no emails on Sundays either.
The jokes changed. Now they sounded more like “are you coming back full-time at all?” or “perhaps you’ll want to start working again after the baby is born?” In Denmark, as a father ago, you were usually granted a two week paternaty leave. So when my wife rang to tell me to come, I left my phone in the office and auto-forwarded emails. Off to the hospital.
Three days later, my private phone rang. It was my boss saying something like:”I know you’re on leave and all that but could you please answer your emails” And so I did and it was fine, except for the loss of sleep, heart beating too fast and a frustrated wife. These two weeks were supposed to be the happiest of my life but instead I was letting everybody down. Especially myself.
My wife sent me to the doctor who told me to have a three week sick leave due to stress. I also went for an interview to get a new job. 37 hour work week with a set rule of no late night emails and definitely no phone calls to colleagues after 5 pm.
Working with clients in the evening meant taking hours off at a later time but no later than two weeks. All-in-all a “No Grind”-culture. I am still with this company and have been for five years.
This lengthy example may sound extreme in both directions. But it highlights a worrying trend: Grind Culture.
Working long hours and being proud. Praising colleagues and friends for working well into the night. Skipping family, friends and personal wellbeing along the way. A martyr for the company.
Along the way you may be promoted to another position where you praise more junior co-workers, explicitely or implicitely, for enacting the grind culture. While, of course, you yourself turn up the grind an extra notch.
Let me tell you now that my opinion is this: Grind Culture is sick. It makes most people miserable, unproductive and hampers innovation.
Why does Grind Culture make people miserable? Well, this is should be obvious. Not having time to spend with your kids, friends or family let alone your personal hobbies and interests is toxic.
Grinding away prevents you from spending time on other things, yes but being submerged in work also takes away your ability to adopt new perspectives and reflect on life. Your life. If you’re deep into the grind you tend to be the culture. You’re a martyr, someone who’s a doer and not a whiner. If others can’t see that, it’s their problem. In the long term this will come back to haunt you. You risk destroying important relations and/or not making new ones. You may end up miserable.
The thing is, where’s your reward? Martyrs think they go to Heaven. Where do the martyrs of the corporate world go after they’re burned out?
Grind Culture is unproductive
Putting in too many hours actually decreases overall performance. Yes, overall performance. Once you hit more than 40 hrs per week your entire work performance suffers. You actually get less done in a week! You’re probably too tired or stressed out to do your job properly. Don’t believe me? Think about your own busiest weeks? or read this easy read based on Stanford research. Or a case study about call-center workers.
So grinding makes people miserable and unproductive. But it also destroys innovation. Of, course this makes perfect sense, and research seems to back it up. Basically, if you want innovation among employees and co-workers, you want them to be content and rested in order to perform.
There used to be something called work-balance. But in some companies even work-life balance seems to be frowned upon.
Or maybe you decide to “quite-quit” your job and do the absolute minimum to avoid getting fired.
None these seem like good ways to handle Grind Culture.
Taking on grind culture is hard. It takes leadership. From the team as well as from those in leadership positions
Here’s an idea to put on the wall:
Sustainable pace. This a practice taken from Extreme Programming but it has nothing to do with software. It means that we work maximum of 40 hours (some agree on less) per week. Anything not done will have to wait.
Here’s one more:
Eliminate waste. If you do retrospectives, and you should (check out my article on retros), try focusing on where you waste your time. Maybe you suck at prioritizing? Maybe you hang around the office when you should go home.
If you’re a leader it may be up to you to put Grind Culture on the agenda and of course lead by example. As a leader or colleague, stop giving praise when a colleague sends that email when they should be reading bedtime stories. Praise does not have to be verbal. Answering the email that same evening is a form of praise. If you really can’t sleep until you have responded, make sure that the response is not sent until the next day (your email client can delay sending).
Another anti-grind hack is to tell co-workers about the nice things you did in the weekend. Or brag about taking your family out for dinner on a Wednesday. That way you are showing, not telling, that taking time of is ok.
Hopefully, over time you help each other chip away at Grind Culture.