Is your job ‘performative’? Why workers can’t quit the timeless art of looking busy

April 19, 2023

There’s work, and then there’s the performance of work—but how much time do employees spend on the latter? People analytics firm Visier surveyed 1,000 full-time employees to understand how much time people spend on “performative work”—work that isn’t necessary, but is done to appear visible to managers, reports Fast Company.

Here’s what they found:

  • The majority of people believe performative work is important: Fully 75% of respondents said performative work—such as attending unnecessary meetings, staying on chat apps after hours, or scheduling emails for before or after hours—was at least somewhat important for their professional success. Over 33% of respondents said they attended unnecessary meetings and more than 25% said they kept their laptop screen awake while not working.
  • Which means the majority of people do performative work: Indeed, 62% of respondents said they spent more than six hours a week on performative work, and 43% said they spent over ten hours per week on performative work.
  • Because they are worried about how they are perceived: 70% of respondents said they did performative work in hopes that their manager would notice, and 59% said they were somewhat to very concerned about how their work compared to that of their peers. Meanwhile, 44% of employees said their employer used monitoring software to track their productivity, and 61% of employees who were being monitored said they were more likely to prioritize visible tasks.

“Employees with employers who use surveillance tools were also more than twice (and in some cases three times) as likely to commit the most egregious performative behaviors, like keeping a laptop screen awake while not working, asking someone to do a task for them, and exaggerating when giving a status update,” the report’s writers noted.

Research contact: @FastCompany