IF YOU are always working late, stop and ask yourself why. Is it because you have too much work? Do you manage your time poorly? Are your company's processes inefficient or lacking in good management practices? Or is making your presence felt the key to getting a promotion?

Working late occasionally during audit periods or a new business drive can be necessary. However, when a work-late culture is practised unnecessarily, it can be detrimental to productivity, personal health and society at large.

Ms Debbie Phillips, vice-president of United States-based WFD Consulting, which offers work-life solutions to many leading Fortune 500 companies, says: "Working late constantly can have a detrimental impact on society as it impacts negatively on family relationships.

"In some societies and locations, women in particular are choosing not to or finding it difficult to, develop a relationship, marry and have children because the work environment and a work-late culture do not support women who want to have a career and a family."

Make a difference

What can companies do to better manage the impact of working late or break unhealthy cultural habits?

Ms Phillips believes that companies need to create a "culture of flexibility" that allows employees to manage the demands of their work and personal lives.

Even companies for industries that provide round-the-clock client services can still implement flexibility and create process improvements that help alleviate issues related to health, family relationships and productivity.

"Work-life balance is indeed a real challenge in a dynamic and fast-paced industry like ours," says Ms Teo Lay Sie, chief operating officer of UBS Singapore. "UBS is well aware of the pitfalls, and we have designed our management practices and benefits package to cater to various aspects of work-life harmony.

Our culture is about performance by objectives as opposed to time in the office and that is the premise that our flexible work-life philosophy is based on."

UBS's flexible work-life initiatives include variable working hours, part-time, telecommuting, plus options for permanent home work, occasional home work and hybrid (for staff who split their time between office and home work).

Best practices

Workload management is important too. Professional services firm KPMG LLP believes it is vital to understand employees, and proactively manages staff portfolios to monitor workloads and resource planning.

Explains Mr Philip Lee, KPMG LLP's head of People, Performance and Culture: "We strongly believe that high performance and productivity are sustainable only if people have a healthy work-life balance and are happy. We invest significantly in training to improve productivity and actively encourage our people to develop healthy work habits."

Law firm WongPartnership LLP believes that an Employer of Choice is one that can juggle both the demands of clients and the expectations of employees. "There will be times when late nights are inevitable we help by providing our lawyers with a dinner service, snacks and fresh fruit every evening. We even provide a laundry service and concierge service to them," says Mr Raymond Tong, a partner with WongPartnership LLP.

The key to successfully managing a work-late culture or eradicating one based on "face-time" is how a company evaluates its staff for remuneration and promotion. UBS, KPMG, WongPartnership and other Employers of Choice evaluate their staff by performance and not merely presence.

Mr Tong explains: "We adopt outcome-oriented performance management criteria in our appraisals which focus on measurable deliverables in terms of work performance and not on factors such as the number of hours spent in the office. This assures our lawyers that they are appraised based on how well they do their work, rather than how much time they spend on it."

For corporations to thrive in today's globally competitive economy, they need to attract the best employees and get the best out of them. Corporations that value "face-time" over performance, or who as a result of careless management and poor practices require their staff to work many hours overtime, will achieve neither.

WFD's Ms Phillips says: "Leadership needs to make a clear decision to break the work-late habit and then demonstrate the seriousness of the decision through action. I think employers can effect organisational change and share best practices which may eventually impact societal change."

The new wave

Technological advances and a generation of workers comfortable with them are already accelerating that change. WFD's study, Generations And Gender In The Workplace, debunks the myth that Generation Y workers put a lower value on work than they do on personal time, as compared to their parents. The study found that young employees in the US worked more hours than employees their age did 25 years ago.

Ms Phillip explains: "The difference is that Gen Y employees are very skilled at using technology and want to work smart. It's too soon to tell if Gen Y employees will be successful at forcing employers and industries to change, but the early indication is their behaviour is changing the way employers think about how, when and where work needs to be done."