‘Work about work’ is dominating people’s day, relegating meaningful work to the sidelines and causing the number of people being overwhelmed and experiencing burnout to soar. That’s according to a new report from project management platform Asana, which interviewed over 13,000 knowledge workers – including marketers – in the UK, US, France, Germany, Japan, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.
Marketers in particular are spending 62% of their time on ‘work about work’. Asana defines this in its ‘Anatomy of Work’ report as any activity that takes time away from the actual skilled tasks an individual was hired to do; it includes communicating about work, searching for information, switching between apps, managing shifting priorities and following up on the status of work.
This leaves marketers just 21% of their time to spend on skilled work and 17% on strategy. The number one barrier stopping marketers from being productive? Too many meetings. In fact, marketers spend an average of over four hours in unnecessary meetings a week, higher than the global average of over three hours. This causes 94% of them to work late – also higher than the global average of 87% – and by more hours than any other job function surveyed.
Today’s changing work environment and pressures are clearly taking a severe toll. Below, we look at the most significant ways this is impacting marketers’ performance and mental health, as revealed in the Asana report.
The productivity paradox
More messages, meetings and tools to navigate – combined with a lack of clarity on roles, ownership and purpose of deliverables – are fuelling this troubling trend towards unproductive work.
Marketers use an average of 13 apps or software programs – higher than the global average of 10. Over one-quarter of workers globally say actions and messages are missed when switching apps, and 26% say app overload makes individuals less efficient. Marketers miss over a third of deadlines a week, compared with the global average of a quarter.
A lack of clarity is also a top driver, with a third of marketers believing their company could provide clearer processes and priorities.
And despite more face time through video calls, the report indicates teams have less clarity than ever. This means marketers are spending an average of nearly seven hours duplicating work a week – above the global average of around five.
All of these knock-on effects are contributing to a growing workload – the top barrier to productivity according to the report’s global respondents, inevitably leading to high levels of burnout.
Among global survey respondents, 71% experienced burnout at least once in the past year. Nearly half cite being overworked as a key burnout factor, with a third feeling overworked from a lack of clarity on tasks and roles. Three-quarters of UK workers experienced burnout in 2020, above the global average of 71%.
Once again, marketers register above the global average when it comes to burnout, with 83% experiencing it in the past year.
With fewer opportunities to connect and celebrate success, remote work is intensifying imposter syndrome – a sense of self-doubt related to work accomplishments – according to Sahar Yousef, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who contributed to Asana’s report.
Almost two-thirds of global respondents have experienced imposter syndrome, with 47% agreeing it has increased in 2020; while 74% of marketers believe they have experienced imposter syndrome in 2020 – yet again higher than the global average, and the highest of all job functions.
Imposter syndrome is more common for people who started their role during the pandemic, and higher amongst parents with children at home than those without.
How to make work work for more people
With just 39% of UK workers feeling optimistic about the year ahead – the second lowest of all markets surveyed – change is expected. So what are three ways employers – and senior marketers – can overhaul their approach to make work, work?
Create a culture of clarity
Nearly two thirds of marketers believe having clear processes helps them achieve their personal targets.
By fostering a culture of clarity – and implementing one system to manage work – teams can align on who is doing what and avoid duplication. Asana’s report cites IDC analysts’ insights, which reveal teams who use three or more integrations experience significantly more time savings – over 30 hours per week.
Flexibility is also essential, with over a third of global respondents indicating the flexibility of remote work helps them focus more.
UC Berkeley’s Yousef suggests people set out three of their most important tasks at the beginning of each day and reflect at the end of the day on progress made.
The report’s authors also recommend identifying ‘work about work’ to reduce unnecessary meetings, blocking time for focused work, and using tech platforms to streamline workflows across teams. Having easily accessible information, and toggling off notifications, can also help.
Help manage burnout – and imposter syndrome
Some 35% of global respondents say flexible hours are critical towards improving remote work-life balance, with 33% of marketers saying their company could offer more flexible working hours.
Increasing employee control by providing flexible hours is in fact part of the ‘demand-control-support’ model of managing burnout the Asana report references. Organisations can reduce demand (ie change the scope of roles), increase control through flexible hours, and increase support by paying for childcare or offering space for non-work discussions in meetings.
Ultimately, the report reveals that engaging and enjoyable work is the number-one motivator to people achieving their best work, followed by adding value to the business and progressing their career in the new year.
As Yousef concludes: “It’s critical to give people the freedom to carve out time for their most important work every day and to help employees see the meaningful impact their work is having.”
Hannah Wickes, chief marketing officer at carbon neutral search engine, Ecosia
It’s important to give people ownership of tasks early on; so, to say, ‘these are the things long-term we want you to take over and lead on’, like email marketing. We give clear guidelines on team development. We have a process for a one-month check-in with their team lead, a three-month check in, and then a six-month check in, and then we go to semi-annual. Those processes are really important in terms of giving clear feedback on areas for development. That feedback in an office environment can happen more casually, but it has to happen in a more structured way when we’re all remote, to give people the clarity and guidance they need.
It’s also important to make sure the social stuff happens, even if it’s tempting not to after a busy day. I’ve shifted some of our team catch-ups to happen before the end of the day, like a pub session that is actually within your working hours, to show we really want people to be a part of it. That’s part of our assessment and feedback – whether someone has built strong connections in the team.
We had a hybrid approach before Covid anyway – three days in the office and two remotely. But around holidays like Easter and Christmas, it’s now up to a month that employees can work remotely over those dates. A huge amount of the team is from North and South America [Ecosia is based in Berlin] so to make the most of that trip, they can have a holiday and work remotely. I’ll probably take advantage of that as well [Wickes is from Australia]. I see that as important for both people’s physical and mental health.”
Lauren Heaton, head of marketing at online training company, Circus Street
To help give the most clarity possible to new starters, we have developed a comprehensive onboarding deck, which includes graphs and charts of all the different teams in the businesses and how they work together. It’s also important to onboard people in a certain order. For instance, in the marketing team, we start with HubSpot, then our blog, our website, our social, to make it an organised flow, so people aren’t left to piece things together in terms of how this works with that. I have also created a KPI sheet, but then I ask my team to pull together what this might look like for them to give them ownership of the process.
We just did a company-wide pulse survey to assess how people are thinking and feeling about returning to the office. We have some initial stats back showing the majority of people want to be in the office one to two days a week. I’ve spoken to my team and we’re all on the same page of wanting probably two days a week in the office. And I’d really like those to become our meeting days, then it means on the other days we all focus on our actual work.
Particularly with new, and junior, hires, it’s hard to know someone’s work ethic and work behaviour compared to when you’re with them in the office, when you can see whether they’re working and being effective and productive. So I think a hybrid situation will be great for us.”