TIME or TASK? How Many Hours Should Staff Members Work? [Take 1]

I’m surprised how often both business leaders and pastors ask me about the number of hours they should expect out of a salaried staff member. The answer is a coin with two sides.

On one side is what kind of work ethic can a leader realistically expect from the troops? On the other side is what kind of work ethic can Jesus rightfully expect from a Christian?

Today I want to look at it from the leader’s point of view. In my next post we’ll look at it from the staff member’s point of view.


To business and ministry leaders who ask the “How many hours” question, I always point out that they’re asking the wrong question.

The right question is: What did I hire this person to do and how well are they doing it?

Here are some important things to keep in mind.

  • If someone can get their job done with excellence in fewer hours than most people – more power to them. If someone else needs more time – keep the lights on. Now obviously I’m assuming that issues like character, integrity, and teamwork line up well. But all things being equal, it really shouldn’t matter how long it takes someone to do the job I’ve hired them to do. It should only matter how well they do it.
  • I’ve also noticed that, “How many hours should I expect?” is often code for “how many hours should they be in the office?”  When that’s the question behind the question, it’s usually asked by a leader who has a personality or work style that prefers the office.These types of leaders tend to forget the many nights out and off-site meetings that some of their staff members have. And since these meetings and events take place out of sight, they fail to add them back into the work ethic equation.Not long ago I was talking to a pastor who was complaining about the work ethic of his youth pastor. Seems he never showed up at the office before 10am and was often out for long lunches, sometimes never to return.I asked the lead pastor if the youth group was healthy and growing. He told me it had doubled in size and that lots of great things were happening with the kids. I asked if the parents were happy, He told me, “Yeah, they love him. But I can’t ever keep him in the office.”I told him to fire the kid and give me his phone number so we could hire him.
  • It’s unrealistic to expect a staff member to think like an owner.
    Business owners and senior ministry leaders often complain that their staff members don’t have the same work ethic and concern for the big picture that they have.My answer is, “Of course not.” That’s what sets an owner or top leader apart. If everyone had the same drive, work ethic, and dreams that owners and top leaders have, no one would ever be satisfied in a staff role.Healthy organizations need leaders and role players. We need folks who see the big picture and strive to climb to the top. But we also need folks who thrive on doing their job and have no real desire to do more.
  • It’s a sign of emotional immaturity to assume everyone is just like me (or will be when they grow up). Yet I find that’s how lots of us think. You can see it in the way we try to change people. We pepper them with facts and then run them through experiences based on the belief that if they only knew what we know and experienced what we’ve experienced – they’d see the world and behave as we do.But nothing could be further from the truth. We’re all different to the core. That’s why one of the secrets to building and maintaining a healthy staff is learning to see, treat, and evaluate everyone as an individual.
  • No one is an island – not even a superstar. If “How many hours should I expect” really means “I can never get hold of that prima donna,” the problem isn’t the amount of hours spent in the office. It’s a lack of respect and teamwork.Failure to take into account the needs of other staff members isn’t a work style issue, it’s a character issue. Even superstars have to play well with the rest of the team. Otherwise you’ll end up with the Barry Bond’s Syndrome (a great performer who destroyed every team he was on).If availability and predictable hours are genuinely important to the performance of other staff members (who need input or a timely response) then someone who refuses to play along, needs to go – no matter how well they are doing “their job.”But in an age of cell phones, texting, and email, it’s a mistake to confuse timely access with lots of hours sitting in an office.


Bottom line: Wise leaders never forget that people and staff are hired because we have a job that needs to be done. As long as they aren’t poisoning the team, and as long as they do their job ethically with excellence, it really shouldn’t matter how they go about it or how many hours it takes. Quickly or methodically – in the office or at Starbucks – in the middle of the night or banker’s hours – all of these are secondary.

When it comes to evaluating a staff member’s performance the only question that really matters is: How well are they doing the job they were hired to do?


So what do you think?

How do you evaluate? How does your board and the rest of the staff evaluate?

How do you want to be evaluated?

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