Meetings and Emails Kill Hours, but You Can Identify the Worst Offenders.
Ms.Sue Shellenbarger is the creator and writer of the The Wall Street Journal’s “Work & Family” column. The former chief of the Journal’s Chicago news bureau, Ms. Shellenbarger started the column in 1991 to provide the nation’s first regular coverage of the growing conflict between work and family and its implications for the workplace and society. At the end of the day, many people wonder where all their time went.
New data-mining tools are helping employers answer that question. The causes of overload have long been suspected—email and meetings—but new techniques that analyze employees’ email headers and online calendars are helping employers pinpoint exactly which work groups impose the most on employees’ time.
The result: some surprises for managers, says Joan Motsinger, vice president, global operations strategy, for Seagate Technology , a Cupertino, Calif., company that studied how its employee teams use time and work together. At Seagate, some work groups discovered they were devoting more than 20 hours a week to meetings, according to an analysis of 7,600 Seagate employees’ interaction and activities in 2013 by VoloMetrix in Seattle. Also, one consulting firm was generating nearly 3,700 emails and draining 8,000 work hours annually from 228 Seagate employees.
Seagate has since reduced meetings and cut back on its dealings with the time-draining consulting firm. “You improve what you measure,” Ms. Motsinger says.
VoloMetrix’s software draws data from employees’ email headers and calendars to show whether, how, and how often groups are interacting. It strips out identifying information so that employers receive only data that are aggregated by groups or companywide, says Ryan Fuller, chief executive officer.
But individuals can see confidential weekly “dashboards” showing how much time they spent on email or in meetings. They can also receive confidential reports on their “organizational load,” measuring how the number of meetings they call and emails they generate compares with peers.
“A small handful of people are really off the charts,” says Chantrelle Nielsen, head of customer solutions at VoloMetrix. In studying more than 25 companies, VoloMetrix has found executives who consume more than 400 hours a week of colleagues’ time, “the equivalent of 10 people working full-time every week just to read one manager’s email and attend his or her meetings,” she says.
Indeed, the overload lands squarely on subordinates’ calendars. One middle manager in a recent 17-company study by consultant Bain & Co. and VoloMetrix discovered he was spending eight hours a week in meetings he didn’t need to attend or that shouldn’t have been scheduled. After receiving coaching from Bain to identify time-wasting activities, he also found he was spending four hours a week reading unnecessary email or answering email that didn’t require a response. The middle manager had just 11 hours left in his workweek (estimated at 40 to 48 hours) to work alone on core job tasks.
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