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How Knowledge Workers Really Spend Their Time

Despite the lip service organizations give to reducing productivity-killing emails and unnecessary meetings to help workers focus on what matters, the problem of workplace distraction may be getting worse.

U.S. workers say they spend only 40 percent of their workday on their primary tasks, and that they’re often distracted by emails, meetings and administrative tasks, according to the fascinating 2019 The State of Work report released by Workfront, a provider of cloud-based work management solutions.

According to the survey, emails and pointless meetings topped the list of things that keep knowledge workers from getting work done. And 63 percent of respondents agreed with the statement “If I had more time to just think my productivity would improve.”

“The [employers] that are effective in giving time back to their people win on a lot of different levels,” says Workfront spokesman Chris O’Neal. “Not only is their performance better overall, they are able to get to market faster because they’re focused on the right things.”

Let’s dive into the survey results.

How We Spend Our Time

The survey covers 2,010 U.S. workers, all of whom are employed by a company with at least 500 employees, work on a computer and collaborate with other people on projects. Here’s how they reported spending their work day:

  • 40 percent — Performing the primary duties of my job.
  • 16 percent — Emails.
  • 12 percent — Administrative tasks.
  • 10 percent — Useful and/or productive meetings.
  • 8 percent — Wasteful meetings.
  • 8 percent — Interruptions for nonessential tasks.
  • 6 percent — Everything else.

Interestingly, baby boomers reported spending a greater percentage of their week on their primary job duties (45 percent) compared with Generation X (38 percent) and millennials (34 percent).

When asked what gets in the way of work, wasteful meetings topped the list, mentioned by 62 percent of respondents. Other major productivity-killing factors included:

  • 55 percent — Excessive emails.
  • 41 percent — Unexpected phone calls.
  • 35 percent — Excessive oversight.
  • 34 percent — Lack of standard processes for workflow.
  • 29 percent — Poor work prioritization methods at my company.
  • 25 percent — Lack of collaboration within my team.

Struggling to Innovate

The survey indicates that while a healthy majority of organizations value innovation and regularly ask employees to do it, they aren’t carving out the appropriate time for workers to actually focus on on this task.

While 64 percent of workers surveyed said their workplace asks employees to think of how they can do things in a completely new way, nearly the same amount — 58 percent — said they’re already swamped with day-to-day tasks and they can’t think beyond their to-do list.

“From the top down employees are being told ‘This is part of why we hired you,’ but from [employees’] point of view they’re saying ‘They’re not allowing me to do that,’ ” O’Neal says.

Looking at Solutions

One-third of workers say the single biggest thing that would help them do more with less is if their employer instituted better processes.

“As individuals we say ‘Let me be free, don’t put shackles on me,’ ” O’Neal says. “But what we’ve come to find out is without process, we’re really exposed to a lot of this busywork. We don’t have enough data to say no to things. When you have too many ways to do one thing, there’s no real way to do anything.”

Another 26 percent of respondents said being able to block out time in their calendar to actually get work done is a top factor. Having fewer meetings to get through the week, having a central place to see all the work the team is doing and setting objectives for the entire organization ranked as top solutions to more productivity.

O’Neal says that in recent years the report has recorded an interesting shift on automation among workers, away from a fear of disruption and toward a more optimistic view that it will actually enable productivity.

In the 2019 report, on average workers said 37 percent of their day-to-day job duties are already automated. About 70 percent of respondents said automation will give them more time for primary job responsibilities, while about a third of workers said people will be competing with robots, machines and AI for jobs in the not-too-distant future.

“The majority of folks in our data now say they look forward to more workplace automation because they feel it will give them more time back to do the real critical-thinking types of work they want to do rather than the mundane repetitive tasks they have to do now,” he says.

Why I Won’t Play Pokémon Go

Do you struggle to maintain concentration? Technology and its foreboding “nowhere to hide” mindset has certainly not helped. Thankfully, there are ways we can limit workplace distractions without having to abandon our smartphones.

Unlike most smartphone owners, I have not downloaded the app sensation, Pokémon Go. While I am typically first in line to consume pop culture, I’m familiar enough with my bad habits to know that the minute this game is uploaded to my phone, I would become obsessed to the point of atrophy. Case in point, I am still haunted by the wasteful Candy Crush summer of 2012.

My refusal to play Pokémon Go certainly puts me in the minority. A recent study from MFour Mobile Research, has found that a third of U.S. Android smartphone users have downloaded this game, surpassing Twitter as the most popular current mobile app. For those of you who are not familiar, Pokémon Go is a virtual scavenger hunt. Players explore the real world with their smartphones, hunting for 151 different cartoon characters at grocery stores, parks, and coffees shops. Did I mention that they are also playing Pokémon Go at work, as if our team needs another distraction.

Office workers are interrupted approximately every eleven minutes, academic studies have found. Once distracted, it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task, says Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California.

Another study, published by Carnegie Mellon, measured the amount of brainpower lost when someone is interrupted. Two subject groups were tasked with reading a passage and completing a test—one merely did the assignment, while the other was told they “might be contacted for further instructions” at any moment via instant message. When the second group thought they were going to be interrupted but weren’t, they were 14% less likely to answer correctly. When they were interrupted, their scores dropped another 6%.

Distractions steal our time, hurt our productivity, impede our creativity, and damage our efficiency. Even worse, many of our distractions are our own fault, making them wholly avoidable. Larry Rosen, author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us, states that these self-induced distractions are becoming more prevalent and difficult to manage. There is a compulsion to check email, text, social media, and games like Pokémon Go. “We might be in the middle of a meeting but if we don’t check in we start feeling anxious,” Rosen says.

To effectively manage self-inflicted interruptions, we must build our ability to concentrate and minimize distractions. Here are a few tricks that (along with discipline) may work:

  • Take tech breaks. Give yourself a pre-determined amount of time to read through social media or hunt down a Pikachu. Then, silence devices and set the timer. Until the buzzer sounds, you work on that one assignment. No flipping through emails, responding to tweets, or switching screens.
  • Be less accessible. Close your door and tape a sign saying “Do Not Disturb. Genus at Work?” Do this at a set time throughout the week to ensure you are allowing yourself time to work undisturbed.
  • Hide. If your workspace is too distracting, find somewhere else to work. Leave your phone in your desk and retreat to a less visible area.
  • Stop pop ups. On your smartphone, tablet, and laptop turn off the notifications that interrupt you throughout the day. This includes banners, sounds, vibrations, and badges.
  • Get help. If motivation is the issue, download apps like Freedom and Zero Willpower that will block alerts and social media access at the times of your choosing.

Don’t fall victim to the Pokémons lurking around each corner. They want to break your concentration and take you off task. If you can control the urge, you remain the hunter; however, if you succumb to their temptation, they are now hunting you. You and your team do not have to become prey to a bunch of pocket monsters. Fight the distractions so you can spend time on things that really matter… like Tetris.

 

Photo Credit: Like_the_Grand_Canyon Flickr via Compfight cc

Office Space: Work in Progress #TChat Recap

Every organization needs the right balance of caves and commons. What that precise balance is depends on what the organization’s particular goals and challenges are, and more granularly, what the immediate situation of a work team is.
Leigh Thompson, Harvard Business Review

This week, the TalentCulture community took on “The Office” as our primary topic. No, we didn’t talk about today’s finale of the long-running TV show. Instead, we focused on real-world workspace — what our physical environment means to us, how it influences our mood and behavior, and the role it plays in our creativity and productivity as individuals, teams and organizations. (For highlights from the #TChat Twitter event, see the Storify slideshow at the end of this post.)

Special Guests: Workspace Wizards

Perhaps no other company understands the concept of workspace better than Steelcase. That’s why we invited experts from that company to share their insights at this week’s #TChat events. If you think of Steelcase as a file cabinet manufacturer, think again. It’s now a global leader in design and furnishings for business, healthcare and education markets. I’m familiar with Steelcase from its work with schools. Just as office space shapes business behavior, classroom configuration has an impact on student learning.

This brief video of the Steelcase “Learning Lab” is a great way to see how Steelcase views workspace:

Key Takeaway: “Place” Matters

Yesterday’s #TChat Twitter conversation was the live-action conclusion to our deep dive into workspace issues and ideas. We seemed to agree on one key point:  These days, “workspace” is often determined by our location at any given moment. Many of us are in constant motion, and we take our work along for the ride — for better or worse. That means flexibility and choice are essential.

But all of us have a primary spot that we call “ours” — even if it’s in a bedroom corner. So, throughout the Twitter chat, many participants (including me) shared pictures of our workspace, or our vision of the ideal setting. Not surprisingly, those images are as diverse as the hundreds of #TChat participants who join us each week! One of my favorites is the Pons Huot Office, shared by Katja Matosevic. (Check out the #TChat Highlights Slideshow below for more, or look at this Forbes gallery of 10 Cool Office Spaces.)

Are you inspired yet? Read on!

#TChat Week-in-Review

SAT 5/11

Sneak Peek: Organizational Pyschologist and #TChat Ambassador, Dr. Marla Gottschalk, helped us frame the week’s theme in her TalentCulture blog post, “Your Workspace: How’s It Working For You?”

SUN 5/12

Forbes.com Post: TalentCulture CEO, Meghan M. Biro identified “5 Habits Of Leaders Who Create Workspace Culture” in her weekly Forbes column.

MON 5/13

TChatRadio_logo_020813

Listen to the #TChat Radio recording now

#TChat Preview: Our community manager, Tim McDonald, posted a detailed the week’s theme and key questions in a preview post: “If These Workspace Walls Could Talk.”

TUE 5/14

#TChat Radio: Chris Congdon, Director of Research Communications at Steelcase, offered fascinating perspectives about the human psychological and physical factors that influence workspace design. In particular, she focused on the importance of choice in satisfying diverse preferences and multiple work modes.

WED 5/15

Related Post: Sourcing specialist and #TChat Ambassador, Ashley Lauren Perez, offered another spin on workspace design — specifically its role in supporting talent acquisition and retention. Read her post, “Employer Brands: Big-Company Ideas for the Rest of Us.”

#TChat Twitter: The community conversation was so fast and furious that once again, we trended on Twitter! Did you get in on the action? If not (or if you want a refresh), see highlights in the slideshow below:

#TChat Twitter Highlights Slideshow: “If These Workspace Walls Could Talk”

[javascript src=”//storify.com/TalentCulture/tchat-insights-if-these-workspace-walls-could-tal.js?template=slideshow”]

Closing Notes & What’s Ahead

SPECIAL THANKS: Again, thanks to Chris Congdon and Steelcase for sharing your perspectives on workspace design and organizational culture. It feels like this discussion has only just begun!

NOTE TO BLOGGERS: Did this week’s events prompt you to write about workspace issues? We’re happy to share your thoughts. Just post a link on Twitter (include #TChat or @TalentCulture), or insert a comment below, and we’ll pass it along.

WHAT’S AHEAD: Next week — reward yourself! Join us for events focused on recognition and employee engagement, with special guests, Stan Phelps founder of 9 Inch Marketing, and S. Max Brown, Principal of Leadership Directives at Rideau Recognition Management Institute.

Until then, as always, the World of Work conversation continues each day. So join us on the #TChat Twitter stream, or on our new LinkedIn discussion group. And feel free to explore other areas of our redesigned website. The lights are always on at TalentCulture, and your ideas and opinions are always welcome.

We’ll see you on the stream!

 Photo: Thanks to Tom Bolt for the Einstein inspiration

Humans as a Service: Sneak Peek Videos

Software as a Service (SaaS). It’s no longer a new concept in the world of work. But have you heard of the new variation on that term — Humans as a Service? What is this really about? How and when will it gain traction? And what does it mean for professionals who focus on the “people” side of business?

This is what human capital innovation experts Jason Averbook, and Richie Etwaru will explore with the TalentCulture community throughout the coming week. Both of our guests bring a unique perspective to the discussion, as you can see in their “sneak peek” videos below.

Take a look. What do you think of this concept? We hope you’ll join us at #TChat forums throughout the week and voice your questions, concerns and ideas.

Economy Shifts From “Buying” to “Subscribing”

Jason Averbook, Chief Business Innovation Officer at Appirio, sees Humans as a Service as a logical next step in the shift from a “buy” to a “subscription” economy:

Looking at “Cloud” as Both a Noun and a Verb

Richie Etwaru, Group VP of Cloud and Digital Innovation at Cegedim Relationship Management, sees no boundaries as business moves toward “everything” as a service:

Join us at #TChat events this week, and let’s explore the potential of “Humans as a Service” together:

NOTE: If you don’t see the videos above in this post, you can watch them on YouTube:

HR Rock Stars & Business Speed: #TChat Preview

Few companies understand the value of going slow to go fast, especially in today’s inter-connected, always-on workplace. So we’re told to pick up the pace, not slow things down, to move at the speed of business. HR is often chided for not moving fast enough, especially in the recruiting and hiring process.

Here at TalentCulture World of Work, however, I wonder about the wisdom of trying to force speed across large, complex organizations comprising individuals with different skills, intellectual abilities, interests and value systems. Do the “5 Ways to Rock Star HR Leadership” require us to move as fast as the rock stars on radio live? My guess is probably not.

Then there’s the employee handbook side of things, where processes and policies are written down, ostensibly to add structure, but really to limit risk. Most adults are self-regulating creatures. Maybe 5 to 10 percent can’t manage their time well, but that small percentage forces a load of policy and process on the rest of the group. We’d argue that the more policy you have, the less trust and productivity you’ll have, but no doubt some will disagree.

So this week we’re going to look at speed — the speed of business, what HR can do to pick up the pace, and the role of metrics, measurement, technology and process in speeding up HR. Here are our questions for this week’s #TChat forum:

Q1: What exactly is the “speed of business” Why do we penalize HR for not moving at it?

Q2: “If it wasn’t for those pesky humans”: Why do we need HR to regulate ourselves?

Q3: How can leadership (including HR) help reduce need to self-regulate & create cultures of trust & productivity?

Q4: What metrics should leadership (including HR) focus on to move at the speed of business & why?

Q5: Tech only moves @ the speed of biz if humans do too, so what kind of tech helps us meet in the middle?

So if you’re into speed, or even  if you’re built for comfort, not for speed, join us Wednesday night, Oct. 10, from 7-8pm ET (6-7pm CT, 4-5pm PT, or wherever you are) to talk about what (if anything) is needed to bring HR up to the speed of business. Yours truly (@MeghanMBiro) will be your moderator. Joining us, too, will be Kevin W. Grossman (@KevinWGrossman), the rest of the #TChat posse, and you. Fast or slow, innovator or laggard, please weigh in on our discussion. We look forward to chatting.

Image Credit: Stock.xchng

Workplace Presenteeism Redefined

The majority of organizations today have employee support programs to help with workplace absenteeism.

Examples include sick days, short term disability, long term disability, return-to-work, workplace accommodation, vacation, emergency family care, and the list goes on. The goals of these programs are to reduce costs to employers, improve employee productivity and ultimately top and bottom line financial results.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American businesses lose an average of 2.8 million work days each year due to unplanned absences, which costs employers more than $74 million. Some thought circles put this number close to $200 million. Regardless, the numbers are staggering, and with our aging population and increasing life expectancy these numbers will continue to escalate.

But…

The figures above deal with workplace absenteeism ONLY, and not workplace presenteeism. What’s the difference? We’ve defined absenteeism to be the employee being absent from work due to health reasons. According to Dr. Gary Cooper, who pioneered the term “presenteeism” in the mid-90’s, this is where employees show up for work even if they are too sick, stressed, or distracted to be productive.

There is an underlying medical issue that is causing the employee to be unproductive at work.  They’re physically there but not really THERE!  The result?  Poor productivity and performance, which often negatively influences colleagues and peers.

The above definition of presenteeism originally coined by Dr. Cooper focuses on health being the reason for non-performance and productivity at work. There are many reasons why presenteeism exists, and through my experience and research, I would argue that our mental states are the key drivers of presenteeism. Corporations have spent so much time, money and resources reducing absenteeism that it has created a culture of fear and anxiety towards being absent from work. Businesses have even gone as far as rewarding employees for not taking sick days, or using sick-related benefits. This has pushed us to behave and act in ways that are in fact more detrimental to our own physical health, and personal productivity and performance.  At the end of the day, we are scared to death of not satisfying the “butt in chair” optic.

The Canadian Mental Health Association of Ontario provides a more precise and detailed description of the reasons for presenteeism, which relate to stress and sub-par psychological state of mind.

Case in Point…

With our world literally turning itself upside down every single day; natural disasters, gigantic hostile takeovers, corporate cuts, war, political upheaval, the technological explosion, WE are scared to death. We have bills to pay, mouths to feed and simply staying alive and covering basic survival needs has never been more at the forefront of everything we do and think about. Decisions are made so quickly, and through our natural “fight or flight” human responses, our actions are dictated by our emotions. Simply put, we’re afraid of being pushed aside or marginalized in the workplace.

Let’s Add a Twist…

We’ve been talking about presenteeism defined as being at work when sick or unhealthy. I am jumping out on a limb here and am going to argue that presenteeism is also about being at work when you ARE perfectly healthy but spending time doing other things completely unrelated to helping your company achieve and succeed on its business objectives.  What about people that are physically there but simply wasting time by choice?

This Doesn’t Make Any Sense…

My explanation… we are unbelievably connected socially through technological means with anyone, anywhere, and at anytime.  We are a culture of “checking in” (e.g. FourSquare, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, email, blog and the list goes on). When using a laptop we typically have multiple screens open at once, flipping back and forth constantly from Hootsuite to email to LinkedIn to Facebook to blogs. Our iPod’s are raging 24-7, mobile phones buzzing constantly from incoming texts, emails, tweets or phone calls, and this is all happening at 10,000 miles an hour. Our attention spans are probably 10,000% shorter than they were just 10 years ago and our concentration levels are limited to the 10 seconds of complete silence we actually get in a given day. Our social connections, technological “connectedness” and instant and constant real-time communication habits result in our available time that should be spent on work is being eaten up doing other things and being unproductive.

The Point? Perfectly healthy people are wasting incredible amounts of time at work, as are unhealthy people. This is ALL presenteeism to me!

What Are the Costs?

I made the argument that technological waste needs to be part of the definition of presenteeism. Research does exist to show that presenteeism is significantly greater than absenteeism but currently I would consider the research a bit sketchy because a) it only deals with presenteeism that is related to medical issues, and b) the statistics are all over the place. Research has been done, primarily in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia.

The Journal of Occupation and Environmental Medicine argues that “presenteeism costs employers as much as 3 times the dollar amount as absenteeism in terms of lost productivity”.

Statistics Canadaargues that “productivity lost from presenteeism was 7.5 times greater than productivity loss from absenteeism”. They also argue that “stress related health problems could increase the ratio to 15 times greater”.

Canadian Occupational Safety provides a good perspective on the problem of presenteeism and argues that it is 4 times bigger than absenteeism in terms of hours lost. The COS also includes research completed from Watson Wyatt Canada that puts the ratio of presenteeism to absenteeism between 2.5 and 8.6 times, with the top 3 medical causes of presenteeism being depression, fatigue and insomnia.

Another Wrinkle in the Cost Argument…

If you have heard me speak in the past or follow my blog, you have likely heard me talk confidently about the positive correlation that exists between employee engagement and business results. The more engaged your workforce is the more successful you will be in achieving your corporate strategic objectives. In terms of a definition for employee engagement there are many, but I have typically used something close to the following:

“An intimate emotional connection that an employee feels for the company they work for that propels them to exert greater discretionary effort in their work”.

Now throw in what I have talked about regarding presenteeism into the mix. Do you think perfectly healthy employees that are physically at work but choosing to do other things is an example of strong engagement? I didn’t think so. Earlier I threw around a bunch of figures for what presenteeism costs business today, and nowhere in this research do these numbers reflect what employee disengagement caused by presenteeism costs. I am NOT going to try and take a stab at what this number may be but the point here is it would be profoundly staggering and it’s a huge problem.

Conclusion…

Pis a much more costly problem than absenteeism, yet corporations focus mostly on reducing absenteeism. I also argue that the current definition of presenteeism only relates to medical reasons, but should include lost productivity and performance as a result of perfectly healthy employees doing things completely unrelated to the business.

These other things are directly related to technology and our “check in everything now and now” mentalities. I also argue that presenteeism is a significant drain on employee engagement, which strongly correlates to business results.  Finally, presenteeism is a huge problem, and by taking on a more accurate understanding of what presenteeism is, the problem is epidemic-like and should be the focus of organizational improvements today.

Taking Work-Life Balance By The Horns

(Editor’s Note: All of us in the TalentCulture community mourn the loss of our dear friend, brilliant colleague and mindful mentor, Judy Martin, who passed away unexpectedly on January 31, 2014. Her message and her life are a lesson for us all. We will forever fondly remember her humor, warmth and wisdom.)

A colleague recently told me she was suffering from anxiety about heading back to work, after a week off.  In gory detail, she described a nightmare in which her manager littered her office with big black hairy spiders. Pretty much how she feels at work, she effused.  “The creepy crawlies never seem to go away.”

That type of stress dominates her work life experience, and it’s not foreign to many of us. And sharing news and tips on how to reduce that work life stress is where my focus will be here at Talent Culture.

The American working pool has been thrust into what I refer to as “a work-related field of cognitive dissonance.” Stuck in a vacuum of perpetual information overload, courtesy technology and our human response to it, we’re also pressed to pay attention at work and excel or suffer potential consequences.  Survey please! The numbers tell the story:

An American Psychological Association survey on work-related stress found that sixty-two percent of Americans hold work as having a significant impact on stress levels.

A survey by Princeton Survey Research Associates found seventy-five percent of employees believing that on-the-job stress has increased compared to the previous generation.

We are under enormous pressure to perform. To deliver. To excel. We juggle our working and living experience, but often fall into a merry-go-round of stress in what I refer to at WorkLifeNation.com as the  “UPED U” Cycle which is described below.

In simple terms, “UPED U” is the chaotic cycle we enter when our work life merge gets out of control and  “ups” our stress level leading to emotional turmoil and potentially less productivity.

The solution – to find creative ways to throw a kink into that cycle.

Here’s what happens in that cycle, along with a few pointers on how to stop the insanity! I’ll be writing more about the antidotes to these cyclical monsters in future posts.

1.     Unlimited Incoming:

A barrage of information continually comes our way.

NEW RULE: Consciously limit your news intake. Aggregate your favorite news sources and blogs on line and choose one time a day to focus on them. Depending on your job, determine the best time of
day to check e-mails and stick to it. If you are addicted to web surfing –limit your time doing that.

2.    Perceived Availability:

We’re all wired to our families, work and communities and everyone else knows you’re tethered to technology so we’ve created the perception that we’re always available.

NEW RULE: Come to agreement with the most important people from work and in your family that you communicate with regularly. Speak with them and share your daily work life scenario. People will assume that you are available unless you tell them otherwise.

3.    Expectation of Instant Gratification:

That perceived availability leads to other people’s needs to be attended to. They want to be heard and answered in the moment.

NEW RULE: Unless your work requires it, do not respond to e-mails in the moment and limit your texting.  This takes a lot of discipline and you will break this rule a lot depending on the circumstances.

4.    Desire to Deliver and Excel:

Our nature is to not fall short. To nurture and want to please in what is a competitive working environment. To make our boss or clients happy, we desire to deliver and excel to keep up with the Jones’.

NEW RULE: Don’t be so caught up in how other people define success. Be confident in your work your deliverables. Only you know how productive you are andwhat might need to change to up your game. There will be times when you might have to enter into the extreme work zone, but be aware of your limitations to avoid burnout.

5. Unlimited Interruptions:

In order to please everyone at the same time, we are often taken out of the moment, are
lead astray from the initial task and surrender to multi-tasking.

NEW RULE: Stop the insanity. Find a place in the cycle to make that tiny aberration in the stream of chaos to offset the tumble effect. It’s really about you taking control a little more control. Being conscious that the choices you make can mean the difference between burnout and a productive work life merge.

The trick is to monitor your incoming, and make concrete choices somewhere in this cycle to stump the system. Where do you think is the best place to stop the cycle? Please share your solutions to avoid an “UPED U.”