Given today’s ever-changing, fast-paced workplaces, it comes as no surprise that more and more workers are suffering from employee burnout. And employee burnout impacts more than the individual’s physical, psychological, and emotional health. It also costs American businesses a bundle.
According to Harvard research, the psychological and physical impact of workplace stress, including burnout, ranges between $125 and $190 billion a year in additional healthcare costs. And according to figures from the statistics website Statistics Brain, “job pressure,” including “work overload,” is the number one cause of stress in the United States.
Here’s what’s even more surprising: Most people don’t actually know how much time they spend on unproductive activities.
By monitoring activity and results data through time tracking, employers and employees can see how individuals spend their time, as well as assess their results. They can then redirect to focus on more productive activities, minimizing the likelihood of succumbing to employee burnout.
So why are workers so burned out, and what can we do about it? While there are many factors, one surprisingly simple key factor contributing to employee burnout is the inability to manage time and priorities, or “weak time management discipline,” as discovered by Michael Mankins and Eric Garton, authors of the book Time Talent Energy. As Garton explained in a Harvard Business Review article, poor time management skills mean we don’t have enough time to concentrate on critical activities or even to rest and relax, leading to employee burnout.
“Employee burnout comes from an excessive exposure to negative stress, and from not using the most effective tools to manage the things that cause that negative stress,” says Charlie Hugh-Jones, a business strategist and author of the book Unlocking A More Productive You: Discover the 3 Keys to Making Space, Increasing Focus & Getting More Done. “One of the most common problems I see in organizations is that they have programs and offer tools to manage stress but not what causes it in the first place.”
If you’re having a tough time seeing the connection between poor time management skills and employee burnout, consider the number of things vying for your attention in today’s workplace. In addition to your to-do list of specific tasks that only you can carry out, you likely also deal with emails, texts, phone calls, and meetings. Not knowing how to prioritize the never-ending barrage of digital and in-person communication, or how much time to allocate to each work responsibility, can lead to feeling overwhelmed, disengaged, and burned out.
Today’s “always-on” world is a real challenge for employees trying to produce their best work, explains Maura Thomas, time management expert, founder of Regain Your Time, and author of the newly released book Work Without Walls: An Executive’s Guide to Attention Management, Productivity, and the Future of Work. Thomas believes that instead of looking at “time management” to produce mental states for optimal performance – calm, happy, and energized – we should focus on mastering “attention management.”
“Attention management means you decide where to direct your focus at any given moment based on your priorities,” she says. “Having a sense of control in a chaotic workflow helps.”
The benefits of employee time tracking are similar to the benefits of tracking your household spending. You have a general idea where your time and money goes, but when you must account for every minute and penny, you may be surprised by the results.
“You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” says Hugh-Jones. “And you can’t change a behavior that you can’t see happening.”
Hugh-Jones says that time tracking is one of the most powerful tools to enable employees to see “what’s really going on,” including not just how their time is spent, but “what habits and behaviors they bring to the office.”
Luckily, today’s technology offers a wide variety of time tracking tools, including mobile time tracking for workers to access from their smartphones, tablets, or laptops.
And when your organization uses a platform like Zenefits, which supports integrated productivity apps such as G Suite, Slack, Asana, Box, and Hive, it’s even easier to pinpoint areas needing attention directly from one dashboard.
According to Hugh-Jones, when people start tracking their time, they become more mindful of how they spend it.
“Even before habits and behaviors are explicitly exposed, productivity goes up,” he says. “This is because tracking time requires paying attention, it increases the level of conscious thought given to every activity if you have to account for it.”
Hugh-Jones says that in some cases he’s seen individuals and organizations “move the needle” by 10-15% just by tracking time. “However, these are short-term gains. The longer terms gains come from the analysis and management of the habits and behaviors.”
Identifying where your time goes is the first step to making changes and tackling the overwhelming feelings that lead to burnout. Hugh-Jones says this is because time tracking allows both the employee and employer to see how time is spent, making it easier to identify behavior patterns. This can also help foster stronger relationships between managers and their direct reports, as the managers “coach” teammates to make better use of their time.
This is where data analytics really shines. The more data available to an individual about the direct results of each of their tracked activities, the easier it is to prioritize the tasks to boost productivity. It can also uncover cases where an individual may take longer-than-average to complete a necessary task, resulting in frustration and eventual burnout. This then becomes an opportunity for additional coaching or education to show the worker a more efficient way to get the job done.
“As nothing is hidden, it can create trust and a shared perspective,” Hugh-Jones says. “The employee can voluntarily identify where he or she needs help, and the employer can offer help backed up by empirical data that shows where it will produce the most relief or growth to maximize productivity and employee engagement.”
Time tracking using powerful data analytics also identifies situations where an individual simply has too much on his or her plate. This excess of work can make it difficult for employees to do what they were hired to do – adding to the continuous distractions of unnecessary interruptions, which lead to dissatisfaction, employee burnout, and possibly even a situation where an employee quits.
“One of the major reasons that employees leave jobs is that they don’t think their skills and abilities are being utilized,” says Thomas. “To do the work that’s most important and satisfying to them, employees need work environments that support focus and undivided attention. Otherwise, it’s easy to lose huge chunks of time to busywork like email or chats with colleagues who drop by with a question.”
As Mankins and Garton’s recent research found, inspired employees are 125% more productive than those who are merely “satisfied.” So give your employees time tracking tools to empower and inspire them to better manage how they spend their time and focus their attention. Your organization will soon benefit from a more engaged and productive team.