Workers say they're engaging in 'productivity theater' for over 10 hours a week to appear busy, a survey shows
- Workers are engaging in "productivity theatre" to look busy at work, a new survey revealed.
- This includes tasks such as attending too many meetings or responding to emails unnecessarily quickly.
Workers are finding new ways to gain recognition from employers by engaging in tasks that make them look productive as fears about layoffs and job security amp up, a new survey found.
The survey of 1,000 full-time US-based employees by workforce analytics company Visier was published in April and found that 43% of those employees surveyed are spending more than 10 hours per week on what it dubs "productivity theater" tasks.
"Productivity theater," or performative work, refers to tasks that workers do to create the appearance of being busy rather than actually doing valuable work, according to Visier. This includes attending unnecessary meetings or spending excessive amounts of time on administrative tasks.
The survey found that almost half of the hybrid workers surveyed – those who split their time between the office and home – spend more than 10 hours a week on performative work. While 35% of remote workers say they do the same.
In an average workweek, close to half of an entire organization is spending 1.25 days on performative work rather than work that would be deemed meaningful, the survey results showed.
Common performative activities include responding to emails or messages unnecessarily quickly, scheduling emails or messages for the future, or attending unnecessary meetings. Over 80% of respondents said they had done at least of these activities in the past 12 months.
According to the survey, one of the top motivators for performative work is the desire to appear more valuable to the business and to managers – regardless of whether you are doing work that is actually useful. Fear of job security is another factor at to why workers want to look busy and boost their visibility at the company.
As major companies in the US have laid off thousands of staff, concerns around job security have intensified.
A recent survey from Insight Global of over 1,000 workers – mostly from white-collar professions – found that 78% were worried about losing their job because of the uncertain economic climate. Over half said they would take a pay cut if it meant they didn't get laid off.
The rise of remote and hybrid work has also played a part in concerns over job security and "proximity bias." This is the idea that managers can't physically see how much work a person is doing and this could result in the person being overlooked for career progression opportunities. A sentiment that could, therefore, fuel performative work.
In 2022, a Microsoft survey of 20,000 people in 11 countries showed that 85% of managers felt that the shift to hybrid work meant they couldn't tell how productive workers actually are. This has led to "productivity paranoia" with leaders constantly worrying about how much work is actually being done.
Microsoft used its own workplace tools, including Teams, to look at whether remote and hybrid employees were doing more or less work. It found that, on average, the number of weekly Teams meetings was up 153% for the average user since the start of the pandemic, an indicator that workload has increased.
It also found that employees were multitasking more during virtual meetings by responding to workplace emails and messages.
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