some people working long hours are faking it, emails are killing your productivity, and more

Over at Intuit QuickBase’s Fast Track blog today, I take a look at several big work-related stories in the news right now — including research showing that some people who appear to be working long hours are faking it, how emails and spreadsheets are killing your productivity, and more. You can read it here.

{ 48 comments… read them below }

  1. Amber Rose*

    Ugh, that last one. I have a task I find painfully pointless. It has to be done in the last hour of every day, and requires tracking down 5 people who are super hard to find. Just thinking about it saps all my willpower.

    Also why I try to get my accounts receivables tasks done first thing in the morning before I’m too tired.

  2. fposte*

    I got confused over one bit–managers wanting to use technology like they do at home–and I went to the original study, which is actually reported in a very cool and accessible infographic style (I’ll post a link below). What the managers want is an interface like the ones they use as consumers when buying stuff.

    I’ll go for a “be careful what you ask for”–we have many things that must be ordered through webforms, and they’re actually a PITA.

    1. Steve G*

      I don’t think it is a matter of (only) tools, as the flow chart in the link you put up would suggest. The problem is the 1st sentence of point #2: “Corporate managers spend more time on unproductive administrative tasks than on strategic initiatives and other key job requirements.”

      This was one of the main issues us peons discussed again and again about a few managers at past co. The processes there were easy, the question was why the manager was doing them in the first place. For example, when the manager of our division would spend hours redoing the pipeline and forecast spreadsheets – adding columns, looking up information, populating fields (but of course messing it up because they dragged down formulas when the formulas weren’t meant to be dragged down etc. because they shouldn’t be doing this!), and then emailing it out to everyone. Or filling out contracts or POs or other basic things. There were many times when this pissed people off. You get paid $60K-$70K more than us to be out there bringing in new business, meeting existing partners/customers, trying to keep the office on the forefront of the technology we sell….not doing low level crap.

      1. Chinook*

        “Or filling out contracts or POs or other basic things. There were many times when this pissed people off. You get paid $60K-$70K more than us to be out there bringing in new business, meeting existing partners/customers, trying to keep the office on the forefront of the technology we sell….not doing low level crap.”

        It took a while to teach my colleagues here this exact thing. They are all engineers and I have now gotten them to understand that it is a better use of company resources for them to give me the details and let me do the paperwork that I am doing anyways then to have them spend 3x as much time doing the exact same thing. Ditto for them strugglign with anything Word or Excel related. But, for some of them (who had never worked with an AA before, are really self sufficient and feel awkward delagating work to anyone), I had to show them that it makes more sense for me to do this at $40/hour than for them to do it at $80/hour, especially when they could be working on other stuff that I am not qualified to do. Seeing an hour of paperwork costing $40 instead of $80 seemed to get the point across.

        1. Judy*

          I remember the days when a team of engineers would have an admin or sometimes a coordinator for 10-15 of us. POs, travel arrangement, even some parts chasing (when building prototypes, get parts, organize, etc). Haven’t seen anything like that for 15 or so years.

          1. Chinook*

            “I remember the days when a team of engineers would have an admin or sometimes a coordinator for 10-15 of us”

            I have heard of those types of days here as well. I am a bit of an anomaly because I jsut look like an admin. but I have other projects that I do that don’t take all my time but need me here during business hours (i.e. couldn’t do it part-time). As a result, word has gotten around to even other departments that I can do their requisitions for purchase orders or chase down invoices with A/P. I haven’t had to travel arrangements yet but I do cover for the one AA who works for our director when she goes on vacation, so it is only a matter of time.

            The irony of it all is that, officially, they still don’t have this type of help as I am a contract employee managing a database. I have just decided that making your position indispensible is the best way to ensure the contract keeps getting renewed. :)

  3. HigherEd Admin*

    We have a lot of the “fake workaholics” in our office. They somehow go undetected, which boggles my mind during our weekly report-out meetings. If you paid any attention, you’d notice that Week 1, their report is “we’re meeting in two weeks to discuss Project X,” Week 2 it’s “we’re meeting next week to discuss Project X,” and Week 3 it’s, “we’re meeting this week to discuss Project X.” Just because someone is using words during a report-out, doesn’t mean they’re actually mentioning anything productive.

    1. MJ*

      My boss thinks the laziest guy on our team is the busiest, because the guy is always talking about how busy he is. None of the rest of us have figured out how he’s gotten all of management to buy this “I’m so busy!” routine despite never actually producing any work.

    2. CM*

      I remember when I was in my last few months of a job and about to go to grad school for a career change to an entirely different field… my status updates were exactly like that. I’m setting up the server, I’m configuring the server, I’m resolving issues with the server. This was a 3-day task that I stretched out for nearly a month. My manager never called me out on it, and at that point I really didn’t care (I would have done actual work if I had been asked, but was pretty self-directed at that job). One of my coworkers said, “Wow, it’s taking you a REALLY long time to set up that server.”

  4. Cath in Canada*

    Emails, sure, but you will take my beautifully crafted spreadsheets from my cold dead hands!

    I created a simple spreadsheet a couple of weeks ago to track progress compared to our target schedule for a home project, and showed it to my husband. He’s never used a computer at work, and was blown away by my conditional formatting and auto-populating graphs. I think he now thinks I’m some kind of wizard. He also now understands why I’ve been telling him for years that his industry desperately needs project managers!

    1. Anna*

      I don’t think it’s a blanket statement about all spreadsheets. I just spent time updating a spreadsheet to track student volunteer hours. Last week I reformatted it so that you can tell the difference between students still in the program and students who have left. There is really no other (efficient) way to track this information that is also accessible to other people so…spreadsheet it is! However, I’ve worked at places that used spreadsheets for everything and frequently they were unwieldy and unneeded.

      1. danr*

        I always wondered about the fascination with spreadsheets. They have their uses, but static tables and bullet point lists can be more efficient in many cases.

      2. _ism_*

        I think the main point of the article is that *managers* are wasting time on spreadsheets and administrative tasks, instead of the *administrative workers* who don’t have management roles.

    2. Chinook*

      “but you will take my beautifully crafted spreadsheets from my cold dead hands!”

      Correction – you can pry my spreadsheets from my cold dead hands ONLY when you can show me a database program that will do a better job of getting me the data I need in a timely manner withotu making my head explode in frustration. I love the IT programmer we have who has actually been able to kill 3 of my spreadsheets :)

      1. ReanaZ*


        I am a BA/SA and feel that about 75% of my job is prying spreadsheets from people’s not-yet-cold-and-dead hands. But in order to replace it with something better. With reporting! And relational tables!

  5. TootsNYC*

    At one of my old jobs, the company would buy you dinner if you worked past 8pm. It became clear that some people were lingering until they could order, and then would leave very rapidly after. And they didn’t seem to be accomplishing all that much in the meantime. Our manager was trying to figure out how to deal with it, especially since now and then, it was necessary, and also bcs people did sometimes genuinely put in killer hours on projects; I don’t know what she did, bcs I ended up leaving.

    1. Artemesia*

      If I were managing a group abusing this, I would convert it to ‘we will order dinner in on nights the team needs to stay late to deliver a project’ so that is a stronger metric. And individuals would not be empowered to just order dinner, it would be a manager discretionary thing. Too bad jerks always spoil it for everyone else.

      1. CC*

        The only place I worked at which would order dinner in for employees working overtime would only do so if they asked you to do the overtime. That seemed reasonable to me.

    2. Anonsie*

      They do this where my partner works, only if you’re leaving right after the order time point you are still welcome to have an order placed as takeout. His company spends a lot of money on little goodwill perks like that.

    3. Erik*

      I used to hang out screwing off looking busy to get a free meal. After a while I started putting on the weight and had to stop. :)

    4. Coach Devie*

      One of the businesses I contract for does this for it’s employees. Granted, its a creative firm with in house printing so there are plenty of nights that you have to stay later than planned. Whenever I work from their office, I get to enjoy this perk. I don’t think anyone there actually gets a chance to abuse it because there is always work to do and often unexpected technical problems that slow things down before a morning deadline!

  6. The Other Dawn*

    I agree; as a manager, a lot of my time is spent on emails and admin-type tasks. There are some days when I go home and feel drained, and I couldn’t tell you what I did all day. I’ve noticed that on days when I’m not taking care of stuff like that, the day goes by a lot faster and I feel energized by work, rather than drained.

    1. Anna*

      I always ask before I send an email to my boss, “Should I email her about this? Can I call her? Can it wait until I see her at this meeting?” Sometimes the answers are “Yes, no, no” but not all the time.

  7. "fake" workaholic*

    That first study has been presented here (and mostly everywhere online that i’ve heard of it!) as misleading. This is the first time I’m reading the actual article on the study. It’s not that those who are “faking it” are faking their work or performance — they’re only faking how many hours they put into fulfilling their workload, and only due to a consulting firm culture that rewards long hours above all. the article clearly states that their workloads and client satisfaction is NOT suffering.

    I think most people, when they read the headline or skim the article, would assume that the fakers are actually faking their work or not getting their work done. that is not the case in the consulting firm studied.

    As you can tell by my username today, I am a similar “faker” — I work in a consulting firm that values client satisfaction (not necc. long hours, but it’s kind of assumed that you will be working 60+ hours, at all levels). I am a woman. I agree that the employees (mostly women) who explicitly request a work-life balance or time off end up getting penalized and perceived as low-performers.. and that’s why I take time off for my life when I can manage it within my work. Sometimes I can’t control my schedule because of client needs, but when I can control it (i.e. if I have only 8-10 hours of work that day!) I will absolutely take an hour here or there to go to the bank or get my groceries or go to the gym… or just work straight through morning but stop at 5 or 6pm.

    most people (I think) are not realizing that the firm studied in the article, and others like it, have us working from 7/8am through 10/11pm. so what’s wrong if I take an hour or three to live part of my life, if my workload isn’t suffering, my clients are happy, and my manager is happy?

    1. fposte*

      Right, I was reading it as a good thing–some people get the work done in fewer hours but understand the company narrative requires a certain amount of overwork theater.

      1. Violet Rose*

        I love the phrase “Overwork Theatre” – sometimes I think my boss [technically my boss’s boss] appreciates the theatrical performance of work over the actual work performed.

      2. "fake" workaholic*

        lol i love that phrase, “Overwork Theater.” sums it up nicely! but you don’t want to overwork TOO much, lest they think you are a slooow worker rather than a hard worker.

      3. puddin*

        I have to pile on here- this is some of the best phrasing I have heard in a looong time.

    2. Future Analyst*

      Yeah, I was also confused about what they were “faking.” As long as the work is getting done at a satisfactory level, aren’t they doing their jobs? Just because they’re not calling attention to their time off (or lack thereof) doesn’t mean they’re somehow hiding anything.

      Anyway, it was a great read. I do find the dichotomy (between people, particularly women, specifically asking for reduced hours and those who do not) interesting, because my general view of work is that you should do what’s expected, and as long as that’s happening, you should be trusted to run your schedule the way that works for you. Obviously this does not pertain to individuals in certain customer-service fields (retail, food service, etc.), but can definitely work for most professional roles.

    3. MaryMary*

      Well, I have worked with people who were difficult to get a hold of, but who “faked” being online and available more than they were. Usually these people were responsive towards clients or upper management, but if you were a peer or on a lower level, it was difficult to get a response – especially if it was something that needed a conversation, not an email. A lot of us have worked with people like this, but it’s even harder to convince leadership there’s a problem if they think the problem coworker is working 12-14 hours a day…and he responded to their email at 11pm last night!

      1. "fake" workaholic*

        @MaryMary, i’m with you on that – those who only “show up” for their managers and those with power, but ignore peers or anyone else, are just the worst!

        for 2 years i had to deal with a co-manager like that and it drove me nuts. (worse still, she was also a woman, so any attempt to inform our (joint) boss of the situation was implied to be a “catfight”! yes the catfight sound was literally made at my face. i was shocked into silence and lost all respect for that boss that day…)

        1. MaryMary*

          Mine was a man, and he had a 3pm hard stop to leave the office (he came in at 6am). He would not attend internal meetings or continue a conversation past 3pm, and when he logged in later he’d only send emails. I’m single and don’t have kids, so I really want to be supportive of flexible work schedules any work-life balance reason. But his was to allow time for an extensive workout routine. He was less flexible about getting to the gym on time than all the parents on our team were about getting to daycare on time (or home for dinner/bedtime) and it drove me bonkers. I wanted to push back on him to be more flexible, but I felt like I couldn’t without undermining flex time for non-family reasons. Grrr…I’m getting mad all over again thinking about it!

    4. CAA*

      I agree that delivering the desired results cannot be classified as “faking it”. I’m just wondering how the heck any manager in a billable environment such as consulting would actually believe these people are working 80 hours per week. Don’t they have to approve timecards and/or billable hours reports on a regular basis?

    5. Anonsie*

      I thought the article was pretty clear about what they meant. It’s a lie/fake by omission– they’re not working the same crazy hours as others, but they’re not claiming to. They’re just not mentioning to anyone what they’re doing and keeping enough of a spread schedule that it wouldn’t be obvious to anyone who wasn’t digging.

    6. AcademiaNut*

      That’s what I took it to mean as well – the people working 80 hours, and the people working 50 or 60 hours were actually performing to similar standards when it came to actual work accomplished. Their managers couldn’t tell who worked more based on the results.

      But someone who worked 50 or 60 hours and was honest about it suffered in performance evaluations compared to someone who worked 50 or 60 hours and made people think they were working 80.

      In other words, your boss thinking you work really long hours is considered more important for performance review purposes than actual productivity.

  8. Ed*

    I remember the guy from the Manager Tools podcast referencing hours once. He said that everyone throws around the 80-hour work week but after decades of consulting and thousands of clients, he could only think of a few that actually worked that many hours. Think about it: if you work from 8 AM to 8 PM every weekday (and even skip lunch/dinner which few do), that is still only 60 hours. If you do it every day of the week, you just barely exceed 80 hours. Very few people routinely work 80-hour weeks.

    1. MaryMary*

      I’ve done it (it sucks). My schedule was 8:00-10:00 or 11:00 (14-15 hours) Mon-Fri, lunch and dinner at my desk. I usually tried to take one weekend day completely off, and “only” work 6-8 hours on the other.

      If you have billable hours, there’s only so much faking you can get away with. If you’re billing for 80 hours a week, you better be working 80 hours per week. Once you get beyond billable hours targets and more into deliverables/client service, I think a lot of people work 50-60 hours a week with an occasional crazy week or two, and the perception is they’re working 80 hours per week.

    2. jag*

      I know people in investment banking and big law that did 70 hours a week most weeks for a number of years:
      12 hours a day weekdays, and 10 hours over one or two days over the weekend. On and on again.

      80 is quite a bit more – these people would do that from time to time in crunches, but not week after week.

    3. Jake*

      I think it’s human nature. I work 60 to 80 hours a week every week (not including lunch or breaks). Most weeks are 65 to 70, but my go to phrase is still 70 hour weeks even if I average a couple below that.

      The 80 hour week only would require that I include breaks, lunches and a couple hours of “rounding error.” People can easily convince themselves of the 80 hour week, even if they only “work” 60, especially if a commute is involved.

  9. Yako*

    “People who explicitly push back” in particular women… You phrased that as a bad thing, as if they’re not being team players…

    Maybe they’re not explicitly pushing back… Maybe they y’know, have a life and family and stuff…

    1. esra*

      I don’t think she’s phrased it as being a bad thing that women push back, so much as the bad thing is the punishment.

  10. ReanaZ*

    Yeah, I am one of these fake workaholics. I’ve been doing it for years and years–ever since my second year of my first professional job, actually. It was at an educational not-for-profit–and if any of you are familiar with educational NFPs, they’re highly driven by TFAs’ “ANYTHING to close the achievement gap”, which usually manifests into an extremely unhealthy “if you don’t work yourself into the ground constantly, if you ever need the slightly amount of time to yourself, you must HATE THE CHILDREN” guilt-driven nonsense. I routinely worked 60+ hours a week (this was basically the minimum expectation), some 70+, and very occasionally 80+.

    I hit a hard wall of burnout 2/3s of the way through my 2-year contract and I … just stopped. I just stopped. I went down to 45 hours a week (was scheduled to be physically present for at least 43.5, on a good week, plus a wee bit of extra time for prep, meetings running late, kids not being picked up by their parents, etc.). 18 months of requests for more reasonable demands landed on deaf ears (actually, demanding, guilt-inducing ears), so I didn’t ask. I just stopped. In this case, there really was way too much work for those hours, so I learned some relentless prioritisation. I cut out basically all the fluff work, the needless paperwork for the sake of paperwork that no one ever actually looked at (and not required by any outside agency or anything). My standard was that stopped doing anything except things that directly effected my students or quality of work with them -OR- that another coworker would have to pick up slack if I didn’t do it.

    When I started it, I was in a pretty bad headspace and I had zero fear of being fired, so was feeling pretty fuck it. But… no one noticed? And then my performance reviews were higher than they had ever been? And a strategy was born.

    In later roles with more reasonable workloads, I’ve also discovered that I can produce the same amount of work in 6-7 hours working at an accelerated pace or 8-9 hours at a slower pace. But I can’t work 8+ hours at an accelerated pace without hitting burn-out pretty quick.

    So I carry a reasonable-to-high workload where people think I work way more hours than I actually do, I’m lauded as a high performer, and I quietly don’t mention to anyone that I actually take work somewhat under 40 hours a week.

  11. Matt*

    At my place, until a few years ago we had one of those old-fashioned flextime clocks printing the clock-in/clock-out time on a card. Flextime was from 2:30 until 5 pm, when one clocked out after 5 pm, there would still 5 pm be printed on the card, but in red color which meant that one was clocking overtime. Red markings had to be commented in writing with the amount of overtime hours worked. As 5 pm neared, every day a whole crowd used to be gathering in front of the clock, waiting for the 5 pm click that announced the switching from black to red. Then they clocked out, went home and recorded whatever overtime. Recently we switched to a more modern system which records the exact time 24 hours and regular flextime was extended to 10 pm :)

  12. Fed Up*

    “some people who appear to be working long hours are faking it”

    Let me introduce you to my closest “co-worker”.
    on her phone: talking, texting, watching soap operas,
    in the kitchen: eating, cleaning (we have a weekly cleaner), rearranging
    going to the bathroom … again
    walking around the store watering her plants
    doing things that look like they’re legit but aren’t (yes, she’s working with fabric, but no, she’s not working on an order and no, it’s not a priority)
    has something to pick up & look like she’s working on whenever someone comes down the creaky wooden stairs to our basement workroom (so there’s no sneaking up on her & no security cameras)
    takes well more than the allowed lunch / break periods, but somehow “forgets” to clock out, so always enters “15 minutes lunch” when she clocks out at the end of the day (so she’s stealing money from the company by her lack of work throughout the day)

    Just a few weeks after starting there, I started initialing the work orders I complete, as well as certain of the products. (Which has saved my butt a couple times when my “co-worker” screwed up & I had to fix it.)
    Then a few months ago I started keeping a daily log of my time, which orders I do, what they’re comprised of, what other projects not related to a particular order are given to me to handle.
    I’m going to put it into a spreadsheet & hand a printout to the boss with my resignation as soon as I get another job. _This_ is what you’re losing. _This_ is why our department has been running “the best ever” (his words) since I’ve been on staff.
    I think the only person who has actually noticed the difference in throughput is the shipping guy, who was absolutely amazed at what I considered a normal amount of time to get an order to him (through the alterations department), compared to my “co-worker”. Honestly jaw-droppingly amazed. Difference of hours, if not a whole day. My “co-worker” has even told me not to work so fast, because it makes her look bad.

    Trying to explain to the boss that my “co-worker’s” mistakes are costing the company money because they cost me time to find & fix (or in some cases, I’ve been told not to fix them, just let them go out to the customers, which is really bad customer service) doesn’t get through his thick head. Neither does telling him about all the time she’s wasting… that’s stealing money as much as if she’d taken it from the till.

    Then he (the boss) has the gall to try to tell me how to do my job (which he knows practically nothing about), and tell me that [something customer didn’t like how it was done, & I was in the process of re-doing] is something I should know how to do.
    Um, yeah, you’re right. I should. I do. I’m in the process of doing it. I’ve done this thousands of times. I did this the very first day I was working here. I do MUCH more complicated things pretty much daily, including that very day.
    The problem is that #1 – this customer is *exceptionally* picky, and #2 – the sales clerk was sloppy in presenting the order to me (both verbally & in writing – I had no customer contact), and notice that I’M IN THE PROCESS OF CHANGING IT … (again, because of #2 I had already re-done it)
    (And oh, BTW, I’ve been feeling crappy for 2 weeks; in that time have been to the doctor twice, urgent care once, the quick-care at my doctor’s office once, left work early twice, and am holding on by a thread, probably shouldn’t be here today either, but can’t afford to lose any more money. Now, tell me again how to do my job?)

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