Your helpfulness at work is hurting your job performance

One of the things we learned in elementary school was the importance of helping others. Whether it was showing the new kid how to find the cafeteria or collecting papers for the teacher, the concept was clear: being useful is a virtue.

But once we entered the business world, we quickly realized that being an office assistant, especially today, when “the office” is. virtual for many — at the cost of our personal productivity and creativity.

Long-time employees with in-depth institutional knowledge are supported by their peers for direction or approval. Top performers are often taken out of their own jobs to help new hires, and are asked to carry more weight than others. These less titular workers can be paralyzed while waiting for their own work to be approved.

This “collaboration overload” can affect not only our job performance, but also our overall well-being. It’s crucial that organizations empower their employees to protect their time and their sanity so that their helping instinct doesn’t do more harm than good.

Collaborative work takes up most of our week

“Collaborative work” – the time we spend working with and helping others (including with emails, instant messages, phone calls, and video chats) – has increased dramatically over the past year. decade. Email and other internal collaboration activities make up 42% of the average knowledge worker ‘s time, according to McKinsey, leaving us less time for deeper, more focused solo work.

This problem only worsened when knowledge workers abandoned shared offices at the WFH during the COVID-19 pandemic. No longer able to bend down to ask a quick question of our neighbor, we had to turn to remote work communication tools that take up more time in our day. Voice and video call duration doubled, according to Microsoft study during the pandemic, and instant messaging traffic increased 65% for some remote work teams.

Uber tracked collaboration tools usage during this time and saw a 40% increase in meetings and a 45% increase in average attendees per meeting, as well as a threefold increase in Zoom meetings and messages. Slack. This resulted in a 30% decrease in concentration time (two or more hours of uninterrupted time working on a specific task or project), which was found to have a strong correlation with employee productivity levels.

As we spend more time on collaborative work, tasks that require focused concentration take longer to complete. This causes our workdays to stretch into evening hours and even weekends, which increases our risk of burnout. And the most useful among us are the most at risk.

A predominantly self-inflicted problem

It’s easy to blame Zoom and Slack for our difficulty finding time to focus. In fact, Lucid surveyed 1,000 full-time workers and find that 37% of people who work remotely three or more days a week said constant notifications from collaboration tools negatively impact their creativity.

But there is more to the story: Studies show that 20-35% of value-added collaboration comes from just 3-5% of employees. These “extra milers” earn a reputation as capable employees and willing helpers, and are continually drawn into collaborative efforts and requests for help. As a result, their job performance may suffer.

Unfortunately, much of this teamwork goes under the radar, so it goes unnoticed and unrecognized by management. This is especially true in hybrid and remote environments, where one-on-one meetings take place online and therefore are not visible to superiors.

To compound the problem, with all of this collaboration comes the added cost of switching the context. Studies have shown that when we are interrupted, whether for 30 seconds to read an email or for an hour-long meeting, it can take up to 20 minutes refocus on the task we were working on.

Add in the daily distractions of the WFH — spouses, children and pets that demand attention, knocking on the door, dishes that need to be washed — and our work-life balance fades away.

Prevent collaboration overload and burnout

Excessive collaboration can lead to burnout, which leaves people feeling unappreciated, irritable, and perpetually exhausted and in search of another job (which is certainly not useful).

TPerformers know that saying “yes” to collaboration requests means saying “no” to other things. Understand the areas in which you are best equipped to actually add value, rather than accepting yet another meeting because you want to look like a team player – will help you manage your time more efficiently.

Here are some additional tactics to protect your productivity and creativity:

  • Time lock: Set aside time on your calendar for focused work so it’s visible to coworkers, and resist responding to non-urgent messages during those hours.
  • Calendar setting: For every meeting you call, make sure the agenda is clear and let your attendees know that you have a hard stop at the end. (If you’re not setting up the meeting, ask whoever is in charge of it for an agenda to help keep everyone on topic.)
  • Permanent meetings: Schedule regular and dedicated standing meetings with your colleagues and other project stakeholders. Encourage everyone to save their questions or problems during this designated time to reduce interruptions during the remainder of the work week.
  • Borders: Be clear with managers and team members about when and when your working hours start – and stick to them as much as possible to protect your personal resources.

If you don’t feel comfortable doing these things – or saying “no” to collaborative activities – it indicates an issue that needs to be addressed at a higher level. If you’re feeling the effects of collaboration overload, some of your coworkers probably are too. Chat with your manager, or even HR, about investing in knowledge sharing tools. Allow time for in-depth work. It can be difficult for those of us who have been taught to value agitation to recognize what to think is jobbut this is where the magic happens

Chris Savage, co-founder and CEO of video hosting platform Wistia, spoke about it in his must-see blog post, “To think is to work. Give yourself time to do this.

At the start of the business, Savage looked at his then empty calendar hesitantly. “I dreamed that one day my calendar would be full of important things to do.”

However, he now attributes much of the company’s growth to this empty space. With all that spare time, he writes, “we figured out how to build a product, find customers, market ourselves, build culture, and do all the other things you need to do to build a business. “

“It’s hard to think of open thinking as work, because a lot of it doesn’t translate into real change and progress,” says Savage, whose company has half a million customers. “And yet the most important and influential ideas come from open thinking.”


Jennifer Smith is CEO and Co-Founder of Scribe, an applicationat automatically generates step-by-step how-to guides for any task. Black-smith, a Princeton and Harvard Business School alum, was previously a technology investor and advisor at McKinsey and Greylock Partners.

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