We really need to start treating people’s time as being more valuable than the organisation’s money. ~ Mark McArthur-Christie
In 2012 a civil servant in the German town of Menden wrote a farewell message to his colleagues on the day of his retirement stating that he had not done anything for 14 years. “Since 1998,” he wrote, “I was present but not really there.”
People waste a lot of time at work. Or rather, we waste a lot of people’s time at work.
The fact that this isn’t a contentious statement is shocking. The only debatable point is what people waste their time on.
A recent piece of work from Zapier found that meetings aren’t killing productivity; data entry is. Although meetings have historically been blamed for sucking time out of the day, their survey of 1000 knowledge workers found data entry and covering for colleagues was the biggest non-value add. Some headlines:
The majority of workers spend less than three hours a day on impactful work. 81% say they spend less than 3 hours a day on creative work, and 76% spend less than 3 hours a week on strategic work.
Workers spend a lot of time doing work outside their role. 83% said they spend 1-3 hours a day covering for or making up work for a colleague.
Almost all workers spend a massive amount of time in chat apps. 90% spend up to 5 hours a day checking work messenger apps like Slack or Microsoft Teams.
You and I probably don’t think we waste other people’s time, but intentionally or not we all do it.
- We write policies and procedures that help us fulfill our outcomes but get in the way of the outcomes of others
- We schedule unnecessary or last-minute meetings
- We fill the inbox with messages that have no real value and are over long
- We design processes that make it more difficult for our customers to do business with us
- We wear busyness as a badge – proud of living a life in back-to-back meetings.
- We fill people’s time with work about work – which gets in the way of actual work.
‘Work about work’ are activities that take time away from meaningful work, including communicating about work, searching for information, switching between apps, managing shifting priorities, and chasing the status of work.
We have whole roles in organisations whose remit is to generate work about work – distracting people from what they should really be doing.
After Covid we may be experiencing a reconsidering of priorities, the lasting effects of which will not only be personal, but economic. During lockdown many of us have recalibrated, finding that our life and work are intrinsically linked. They are one.
Unfortunately many employers have not realised this: Cutting the pay of those who work from home, or even utilizing ‘tattleware’– software to monitor workers’ online activity and assessing their productivity: from screenshotting screens to logging their keystrokes and tracking their browsing.
This in part is fuelling talk of “The Great Resignation” a period of high turnover as workers gain more confidence in the economy, and therefore feel more comfortable in making some career changes. For the first time in my career, I know of more people looking at making changes to their employment than I do people who are highly engaged.
Post pandemic we need to reshape the workplace so it reflects people’s lives today, not 20 or 30 years ago. If only one good thing came out it, it might be that we find a greater respect for other people’s time.
As Stowe Boyd writes “we should not start with the goal of conforming to the unreasonable demands of time-hungry corporations, that will use even the leverage of a pandemic to carve out an additional three hours a day from its workers.”
Full calendars and back to back meetings simply reveal leaders who are lost. There’s nothing to admire about this, it’s a very visible sign of a malfunctioning system.
We aren’t always in full control of how we spend our time. However we are in control of how we contribute to the the distraction and time wasting that happens every day in the modern world of work.
It ends when we say it ends.