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Study: 39 Percent of Workday Spent on Actual Work

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Jun 7, 2017
By Arivumathi - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

A survey of 600 knowledge workers at large companies has found that 39 percent of the workday is spent performing primary job duties, with other time filled up mostly with attending meetings and catching up on emails, according to a recent report by Workfront, which makes project management software.

The report said that the number of hours people spend at work has slightly increased, from 44.3 to 45.1 between 2015 and 2016. Despite this, however, the proportion of one's day spent doing the actual work one was hired for has gone down in that same period of time, from 46 percent to 39 percent. As for the remainder? The survey found that, on average, 16 percent of the workday is spent on emails, 11 percent on useful and/or productive meetings, 11 percent on administrative tasks, 10 percent on wasteful meetings, 8 percent of interruptions for nonessential tasks and 5 percent on everything else. 

Despite these obstacles, 92 percent of survey respondents either strongly or somewhat agree that they are productive at their jobs, and in fact say they are more productive than their company leadership, their managers, their co-workers and their direct reports. Given the nature of averages, this implies that at least some workers are less productive than they think they are

The survey also found that 76 percent of people work mainly because they need to survive, with "it challenges me mentally" being a distant second at just 27 percent. Despite this, 92 percent said it was important for their work for be rewarding, versus 44 percent saying that work is only a way to pay the bills and not really much else. This could explain previous survey findings by Gallup that found only 32 percent of workers in the U.S. are actually engaged in their work (with "engaged employees" being characterized as being "enthusiastic about and committed to their work.") 

Further, the report declared that the lunch hour is dead: 15 percent of workers take no lunch break whatsoever, 13 percent take lunch breaks of 15 minutes or less, and 29 percent take a 30 minute lunch break. By contrast, 17 percent take 45 minutes for lunch, 24 percent take an hour for lunch, and 2 percent take more than an hour. The reason for this is a combination of people just preferring to work through lunch (49 percent) to being too busy for a lunch break (38 percent). This tracks with other reports that people are taking less time for lunch, and when they do they go out to lunch a lot less than they did before. 

Other findings include: 

* People feel they are most productive in the morning, with 35 percent saying their best times are before normal business hours and 38 percent saying their best times are between 9 and 11 a.m. Meanwhile, 34 percent feel that the least productive time of the day is between 3 to 5 p.m. 

* Co-workers tend to be the source of office pet peeves. 38 percent said that the most irritating thing about working in the office is co-workers who talk too loudly, while 32 percent said it's co-workers who stop by to chat and won't leave. Following this was offices that are too hot or cold, 31 percent, followed by another co-worker-related pet peeve, having to listen to co-workers' personal conversations at 29 percent. After this are people who call pre-meetings before the actual meeting (23 percent), management that never walks the halls to talk to staff (22 percent), people who bring in smelly food for lunch (17 percent), cell phones that ring in the office (15 percent), and feeling pressure to talk politics (11 percent). Only 12 percent of people didn't find any of these things annoying. 

* The office is becoming a more contentious place: while 81 percent of people said that they've experienced conflict with other departments/groups/teams in 2014, this number has increased to 95 percent in 2016. The most common cause of conflict was "lack of communication" at 36 percent, "conflicting priorities" at 28 percent, and "lack of understanding about urgency" at 14 percent. 

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