Work-Life Balance and Logging
Imagine taking your loved one to the ER, and the medical doctor (MD) finally attends to you, only to find out they’ve already completed a 12-hour day, marking their 70th hour of work this week. Do you think your loved one will receive the best care? You may be concerned that the MD might miss something, not ask the right questions, not listen well, or perhaps administer the wrong medication. A medical mistake can be deadly.
Of course, we all need to be awake and alert at work. A tired worker is an inefficient worker. Chronically tired workers suffer from absenteeism and create higher turnover rates. A tired worker is dangerous. The National Sleep Foundation estimates around 6,400 people die annually in crashes involving drowsy driving, with professional truck drivers contributing significantly to that total. Tired or exhausted minds lead to sloppy work, and incidents like poorly piled logs and equipment accidents pose dangers to workers and are preventable costs to businesses.
As a trainer conducting workshops at 11 Professional Logging Contractor Trainings in 2023, I asked participants about their average workday length. The average they reported was 12-14 hours. All the research tells us this is a bad idea, and we’ve known it for a long time.
The initial idea of an eight-hour workday originated over 200 years ago, when in 1817 the Welsh manufacturer Robert Owens declared, “Eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.” In 1940, Henry Ford transitioned from a six-day workweek to eight-hour days, five days a week. He found that less rested workers didn’t produce enough in a six-day week to justify the pay.
American culture embraces a ‘work harder, not smarter’ ethos like no other developed nation. We have shorter vacations, fewer paid sick days, shorter maternity leave, and almost no paternity leave. Some developed nations grant the mother a paid year off, and dad gets six weeks. We rank eighth for productivity per worker hour, with every nation topping us in the ranking working fewer hours per week.
Does America not understand that fewer hours are smarter? Of course, we do. The theoretically most impactful people in companies, CEOs, work an average of 39 hours per week—in line with workers in other developed nations. We still hold onto the idea of CEOs and management as the brains of the operation and workers as the muscle, requiring less rest and mental sharpness, but this is an antiquated concept. Today, a single worker in a logging operation may be responsible for an extremely expensive piece of equipment and, effectively, is responsible for accomplishing the work of what would have required several men fifty years ago. Seen in that light, a field worker has the economic impact of a foreman or middle manager of a generation or two ago.
Beyond the bottom line, overwork leads to a greatly diminished quality of life. Health issues such as stress, obesity, increased drinking, diabetes, trouble sleeping, and cardiac issues all increase. The mind actually performs better when given a break. Brain fog can result from being overworked, leading to headaches, lower energy levels, poor decision-making, and an increase in mistakes. Simple actions like stepping out of the cab of the logging machine and taking a few laps around it can refresh the brain, stimulate blood flow, enhance creativity, and promote mindfulness.
When workers have limited time with families, marriages and children suffer. When children suffer, problems carry over into schools. When families suffer, problems can carry over into communities.
Of course, there are times when long hours are simply necessary to get a job done; that is a reality in any dynamic work environment. But the industry should aim to make these exceptions rather than the rule.
Employers have a significant impact on communities. When their workers are healthy, happy, and have energy to devote to their families and communities, everyone wins. What Owens knew in 1817 and Ford discovered in 1940 still holds true today: the costs of consistent, long work days outweigh the benefits in the long haul, for businesses and beyond.