Workers in Asia are spending the most time on “performative work” — in other words, focusing on appearing busy more than doing real, productive work. 

That’s according to a new global survey from Salesforce subsidiary Slack and research firm Qualtrics, which pulled data from more than 18,000 desk workers, including executives.

Performative work includes “spending a lot of time in meetings where ‘teams present achievements’ rather than making decisions or addressing issues,” said Derek Laney, Slack’s “technology evangelist” for Asia-Pacific.

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The survey found that employees from India (43%), Japan (37%) and Singapore (36%) reported spending more of their time on such work than the global average (32%). 

Global ranking for percentage of time spent on “performative work”:

  1. India: 43%
  2. Japan: 37%
  3. Singapore: 36%
  4. France: 31%
  5. United Kingdom: 30%
  6. Australia: 29%
  7. Germany: 29%
  8. TIE — United States: 28%
  9. TIE — South Korea: 28%

South Korea, however, tied in last place with the U.S. — workers from both countries reported spending just 28% of their time appearing busy. 

Japan (63%), Singapore (63%) and India (57%) were ranked lowest for percentage of time spent on productive or “real work,” Slack said.

‘Wasted effort’ 

According to Laney, employees’ focus on appearing busy is “likely influenced” by the way leaders are measuring productivity. 

Leaders are most likely to judge productivity based on visible activity instead of focusing on achieving outcomes.

Derek Laney

Technology evangelist for Asia-Pacific, Slack

“Leaders are most likely to judge productivity based on visible activity instead of focusing on achieving outcomes,” Laney said. 

“This disconnect leads to wasted effort where employees try to show up well in front of their leaders.” 

Globally, visibility and activity metrics, such as the number of hours spent online or the number of emails sent, are ranked as the top way (27%) leaders measure productivity, according to the report. 

Employees may in turn feel pressured to work longer hours, respond to emails immediately, or sit in on every meeting, it added. 

For example, 44% of Singapore employees — the highest globally — say their productivity has been affected by spending “too much time” in meetings and emails. 

Slack found that 63% of survey respondents make an effort to keep their status active online, even if they’re not working. 

Global ranking for percentage of time spent on “real work”:

  1. South Korea: 72%
  2. TIE — Australia: 71%
  3. TIE — Germany: 71%
  4. TIE — United States: 71%
  5. United Kingdom: 70%
  6. France: 69%
  7. TIE — Japan: 63%
  8. TIE — Singapore: 63%
  9. India: 57%

Despite the pressure to work longer and be more visible that employees feel, the report found that most workers wish their productivity could be measured differently. 

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Instead of activity metrics, workers surveyed want to be assessed most through key performance indicators; conversations with their managers; and the “hours spent on specific types of work.”

“There is an opportunity for companies to explore new and different ways of working, such as … adopting asynchronous ways of working rather than meetings, to facilitate more effective collaboration at work,” Laney said.

Employees prefer asynchronous work

Workers are still very much in favor of asynchronous work, which was prevalent during the pandemic in light of remote working arrangements. Asynchronous work means tasks are not carried out in real-time and in person.

The report highlighted that more than half of respondents said the best way for employers to support productivity is through flexible schedules, with 36% opting for flexible locations. 

Unique workplace benefits and office improvements rank lower at 32%.

The survey found that when it comes to returning to the office, workers consider having “a sense of community” and brainstorming as a team “more productive” than engaging in tasks that can be done at home.

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