People spend more than half their day doing busy work, according to survey of 10,000-plus workers

Office workers are spending more than half of their day doing busy work instead of the job they were actually hired for, according to a new survey of more than 10,600 global workers from Asana, a work management platform.

The annual work index, conducted in October 2021, found that people spent 58% of their day doing “work about work,” including communicating about work, searching for information, switching between apps, managing shifting priorities and chasing status updates.

Employees say they waste more than five hours a week, or a total of six working weeks each year, because of some of this busy work, including duplicate tasks and pointless meetings.

People say they spend about 33% of their days doing skilled work they were hired to do — an increase from the year prior. But they’re spending just 10% doing strategic planning that could make them better at their jobs.

Altogether, it’s leading to a lack of clarity around work and making burnout worse.

Lack of clarity drives work stress

Busy work has been a problem for decades as technology has given people new and constant ways to communicate, and it’s only gotten worse during Covid, says Sahar Yousef, a cognitive neuroscientist at UC Berkeley and Asana spokesperson.

In the last year, workers from the Asana index reported spending more time on email, on video calls, multitasking during virtual meetings and feeling the need to respond to notifications immediately. Constant distractions have resulted in 33% of workers saying their attention span is shorter than it was a year ago.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with email or Slack, Yousef tells CNBC Make It, but the disconnect comes when people don’t have a clear understanding of how or when to use them and end up “perpetually checking all platforms and giving them equal weight 24/7.”

It could get messy with return-to-office plans and hybrid arrangements rolling out. To get ahead of it, leaders can set better expectations, Yousef says: Which channel is appropriate to use, how am I going to use them, and what’s the expected response time?

40% think burnout is inevitable

Two years of living and working during the pandemic has sent burnout levels to new heights. U.S. workers said they experienced burnout an average of 2.3 times in the last year, the highest globally. Around the world, 40% of workers even say they believe burnout is an inevitable part of success.

Workers say organizations can do more to set clearer and more realistic goals, and to provide better mental health resources in order to help employees manage burnout.

They also want more clarity around their schedules: 37% of people overall and 53% of Gen Z workers say they don’t have a clear start or finish time to their workday.

Remote work has blurred the hours of the workday, to be sure, but Yousef adds people need to feel they’re making daily progress and completing the right tasks to “end” their day.

Managers can provide better feedback to help people answer: Is it clear to me on a daily basis what I need to do to succeed at this job? Is there a clear start and end to the day, where I can complete clear tasks I see that go toward the greater impact of the company?

“Having a clear beginning and ending to the day is important to not only avoid burnout,” Yousef says, “but it also helps people feel good about their work.”

Sahar Yousef: Cognitive Neuroscientist at UC Berkeley, Haas School of Business

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