Are your employees as busy as they say? These tools will help you measure how workers spend their time and how many tasks they’re really juggling.

You’ve probably had to deal with at least some of your employees or colleagues telling you how busy they are. It could be in response to a new assignment: “I’m so busy I don’t know how I’m going to fit this in.” It could be a casual complaint: “What a busy week! I’m not sure how I’ll get everything done.”

But how do you know that your employees are actually busy, and aren’t just saying that to achieve some goal? With ‘busy bragging’ becoming an ever-more popular part of our culture, and plenty of motivations to use the “busy” excuse, it’s in your best interest to find out.

The Negative Impact

Talking about being busy may seem innocent but it has a number of negative consequences for your business:

  • Time waste. Talking about being busy is a perfect cover for employees who habitually waste time at work and time waste is a near-epidemic. A self-reported survey found that 89% of employees waste at least some time at work every day, with some employees wasting more than three hours a day on a regular basis. And keep in mind that’s self-reporting, so it probably underestimates the problem. Claiming to be “busy” maintains that status quo.
  • Inefficient resource distribution. When you don’t have an accurate perception of who’s busy and who isn’t you won’t be able to distribute assignments evenly. Your most honest workers will be overwhelmed with clients and projects, leading to higher turnover, and your least honest workers will get fewer and fewer tasks. Ultimately, this is bad for both employees and the business as a whole.
  • Cultural influence. Talking about being busy, despite not actually being busy, is also bad for your company’s culture. It encourages complaining and negative one-upmanship. Plus if other workers suspect a habitual complainer isn’t as busy as they say it could cause a rift to form between your team members.

Employee Motivations

So why would employee lie about being busy in the first place? Shouldn’t they just be honest about their workloads?

  • Increasing perceived value. Busy employees are usually perceived as more valuable or more important employees. After all a busy employee is doing more good for the company and would be harder to replace if let go. If an employee is positioning for a raise being busy with tasks and projects is a good way to show initiative.
  • Avoiding work. Some people pretend to be busy so they don’t have to accept new tasks. Out of sheer laziness they’d rather defer the project to someone else and claiming to be busier than they really are is an easy way to accomplish that.
  • Fitting in. Our culture views work as a virtue and accordingly we’ve created businesses where hard work is smiled upon and anything less than overachievement is a sign of laziness. Employees with lower workloads might lie about those workloads just to fit into the culture.
  • Actually being busy. Let’s not rule out the possibility that your employees are actually busy. The majority of your employees are probably honest.

Primary & Secondary Measurements

So how can we go about measuring whether your employees are actually busy? There are some primary and secondary methods of measurement suggested below:

Primary methods attempt to gauge how much time your employees are actually spending on their assignments; you can use time tracking tools like Toggl or Doctor Time to monitor task-by-task productivity across your workforce. The only problem here is that committed employees can manipulate the system by manually updating their time worked.

Another option is use secondary measurements which track the actual work being completed and the best way to do this is through email. Email inboxes accurately reflect how many tasks a person is juggling, how many conversations they’re a part of and how they spend their time throughout the day. EmailAnalytics ss one tool that can show you these insights, including things like:

  • Email volume, which illustrates approximately how many tasks are coming in and getting completed by each of your workers.
  • Senders and recipients, which can show you not only who’s doing the most task-assigning and delegation, but who’s receiving the most as well.
  • Email timing, which can highlight spikes in busyness throughout the day and throughout the days of the week. This can help you nail down the “real” busy periods for your employees.

Though most workers will attempt to be honest about their workloads, there’s likely at least some exaggerations going on in your place of business. The only way to know for sure whether your employees are sufficiently busy is to take an objective measurement and see for yourself.