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Workday is now 48 minutes longer amid coronavirus: Study

Harvard Business School Professor Jeff Polzer joins Yahoo Finance's Zack Guzman to discuss how COVID-19 is impacting the average workday for Americans as many companies are keeping their employees working from home.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: Right now, I want to chat-- how you're holding up through this pandemic because a lot of Americans out there, quite frankly, are burnt out. Perhaps I'm in that camp as well, and it's not because we're working less or working at home but perhaps because we're working longer. That at least according to a new study from Harvard and NYU. And here to chat that is the professor behind it. Professor Jeff Polzer is at the Harvard School and a professor in the Organizational Behavior Department.

And Professor Polzer, I mean, when we look at it, I guess it's not surprising that people might feel burnt out if there is no distinction between the home and the office now, but what did you find when you look into how people are working and how they're working longer through all this?

JEFF POLZER: Hi, Zack. Great to be here. We've all been hearing lots of stories, and we've had our own experiences about working longer, lots of meetings, feeling overloaded. And what we wanted to do is look at a really macro, big scale to get-- to document evidence about just how much this was happening.

So we looked at meeting and email data across about over 3 million people and found that, number one, the overall length of the workday has increased by about 48 minutes a day on average across all of those people. And that's measured based on your first email or meeting of the day to your last meeting or email of the day. So we use that as a proxy for the length of your workday. It may actually underestimate the true length if you're doing additional individual work before or after that.

The other big thing, Zack, is that meeting activity has changed. So to the extent that knowledge workers in particular spend lots of times in meeting-- lots of time in meetings, we found a couple of things. One, there are more meetings since-- and we looked at 16 different cities that went into lockdown. So here we're comparing pre to post lockdown. People are having more meetings. Those meetings are bigger with more people in them, but they're also shorter.

So the net effect of all this is that the cumulative hours people are spending in meetings has actually gone down, which was a surprise to us. But the day appears to also be more fragmented, you know, spending those times in more meetings.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah. You've got more meetings. They might be shorter, but you've got them spread out across the day. You got to squeeze lunch in. You're dealing with kids working at home. I mean, there's a lot of stress that's built up around this too. And, I mean, when you look at-- I know you guys also looked into-- well, I guess there are other analysis out there looking into VPN data and whether or not people might be actually working later hours and sending those emails late into the night, maybe far beyond a normal 9:00 to 5:00 when you can leave the office and say you're out of there. Now constantly always supposed to be connected. So, I mean, how much does that add to some of this stress and maybe feeling like you're never really out of the office with nowhere to really unwind?

JEFF POLZER: Yeah, absolutely. And this was already a problem before the pandemic, right, with knowledge workers. We're bringing our phones home. We're always at work. Now, that has been exacerbated.

And there's this question of working from home, but the other way to look at that is we're living at work. And those boundaries that were always pretty permeable between, you know, going to work or being at work are now obliterated for lots of people as they're struggling to manage their home life, deal with the anxiety of living through a global pandemic, and continuing to be productive and execute at work.

ZACK GUZMAN: You raise a very good point. Working at home is how it's pitched, but living at work just sounds like you're really getting the short end of the stick. You're constantly on the clock. But very interesting results here to see why exactly-- now you've got some data points to bring to your employers out there why exactly you're so burnt out.

But appreciate the update there. Professor Jeff Polzer from Harvard Business School, appreciate you taking the time.

JEFF POLZER: Thanks, Zack.