Quality Time: How Much is Enough?

Alexandra Levit, Managing Partner, PeopleResults
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According to a Leadership IQ study “Optimal Hours with the Boss,” most people spend only half the time they need with their boss. Employees who spend the optimal six hours interacting with their direct leader per week are 29 percent more inspired, 30 percent more engaged, 16 percent more innovative and 15 percent more intrinsically motivated than those who spend only one hour per week.

Believe it or not, though, more time is not necessarily better. When employees spend more than six hours per week interacting with their leaders, diminishing returns are seen in terms of building inspiration, engagement and motivation. The study showed that levels of inspiration or engagement remained the same or declined beyond six hours of interaction.

When I asked Leadership IQ CEO Mark Murphy about this curious finding, he said: “When you spend too much time with the boss, it starts to feel like micromanaging.  People want a certain amount of boss time to get aligned, share concerns, ask questions, etc., but then they want to actually go put all of that information into practice.”

Email Doesn’t Take the Place of Face-to-Face

Among people who only spend an hour per week interacting with their leader, 33 percent of that time is face-to-face interaction and 42 percent is via email.  By contrast, those who spend six hours per week interacting with their leader spend much more of their time (48 percent) in face-to-face interactions, and much less of their time (27 percent) interacting via email.  So, not only is the amount of time spent interacting with one’s leader important, but increasing the percentage of face-to-face interaction matters as well.

Senior Execs Use Time to Stay Aligned

The research also highlighted the need for continued mentorship at the middle and senior levels. Executives experienced their highest levels of inspiration when spending seven or eight hours per week interacting with their leader, while middle managers felt their highest levels of inspiration when spending nine or 10 hours per week doing so.

“Companies’ strategies are changing more rapidly than in decades past,” said Murphy. “If an executive wants to make smart decisions, she’ll likely need more time with her boss (e.g. the CEO or Board).  Also, companies are pretty willing to fire executives, and the job market isn’t great, so it’s understandable that executives have gotten a bit more risk averse when it comes to making big decisions solo.”

Is This an Issue in Your Organization?

If, as an HR manager, you sense that your employees aren’t getting enough quality time with their managers, here’s some advice you can provide to them. “First, take a self-inventory and identify the questions that, if answered, would have the biggest impact on your job performance. Use your limited “boss time” to get those answers,” suggested Murphy.

Next, employees should think of a few ways they can provide value to the boss the next time they’re meeting face-to-face. “Employees should work to build an association in the boss’ mind that time with them is actually useful and valuable,” Murphy added. “If they do that, managers won’t have to be told they need to increase the face-time – they’ll want to.”

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