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a wolverine | accountingweb | the Hugh Jackman productivity solution

Work marvels with Hugh Jackman’s productivity solution


Sometimes less is more. The Wolverine actor’s ethos could help improve your firm’s productivity and prevent burnout. 

13th Nov 2023
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As every accountant knows, the Covid pandemic significantly transformed the way that most firms operate. It showed them the benefits and downsides of allowing staff to work from home and offered a hitherto completely unconsidered chance to reduce property expenditure and, for the more adventurous, employment costs.

It is still something of a rarity, but some firms have begun to realise that staff who want to work exclusively from home will often accept lower salaries and maybe even contribute longer hours. Going a stage further, if your practice is based in London and they live in some far-flung part of the country (or even conceivably overseas) where living costs are much lower, salary rates can be shaved even further.

Even so, many accountants are still struggling to believe that when staff put themselves down as WFH, they are not merely skiving.

What many partners expect to see and relish is colleagues slogging away at their office computers nine to five and then some, five days a week. In an ideal world, they would also welcome a chunk of weekend and after-hours working to justify what they see as inordinately high salaries, forgetting about taking home five to 10 times as much themselves for doing far less.

It never seems to occur to them that there might be alternative routes to optimising this year’s favourite buzz term, productivity.

The 85% rule

He may not be an accountant, but Australian stage and screen superstar Hugh Jackman might just have cracked the problem. While most of us can only dream about starring on Broadway in The Music Man or achieving fame and fortune portraying Wolverine in the X-Men film series, a boost to any practice’s bottom line is more practical and always welcome.

Mr Jackman is a proponent of what he describes as “the 85% rule”. He is keen on using analogies from the world of sport, pointing out that elite athletes running at 85% capacity will perform better in the end because they are relaxed.

Looked at from the poetical perspective, if a hare runs the opening five miles of a marathon at top speed, while a tortoise goes for 85%, anyone who has read Aesop’s fables can guess which one will reach the finishing line first. The trick is to apply this sensibly in the context of a busy accountancy practice.

What never seems to occur to many of those cracking the whip is that working 60-hour weeks as standard can swiftly lead to dangerous inefficiencies and, in the longer term, burnout.

Even Mr Jackman might accept that if a transaction is in its final throes or the last days of January loom with dozens of incomplete tax returns piling high, there is no choice but to burn the midnight oil for a short, intense period of time.

When business is on an even keel, there is a strong argument that playing the workaholic is foolhardy.

There is a danger that, if you get it wrong, the lazy will become even lazier, while workaholics will suffer from the kind of guilt syndrome that could leave them depressed and underperforming.

Avoiding burnout

Some techniques that might help to put this into practice are relatively easy. During quiet periods, I habitually tell people to go home if they aren’t doing much anyway. Quite often, those with nothing to do merely distract their busier colleagues anyway. Such a policy earns me lots of brownie points and often garners enthusiasm to work hard when you really need staff to perform.

Similarly, I am a fan of enforcing lunch breaks, closing the office and turning off the lights at say 6pm and encouraging staff to turn off computers and phones out of hours, except when absolutely necessary, each of which used judiciously strikes me as a valuable investment.

The key is to remember that 85% of effort can, in the long term, equal 110% of expected performance, while 110% of effort (that’s impossible but you get the point) could end up with 85% of output, taking into account the time your colleagues require to recover from their nervous breakdowns.

The question that you now need to ask is whether you are a tyrannical dictator or a benevolent team builder. There can only be one answer if you want to become the accounting superhero equivalent of Wolverine.

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