Managers spend less than half of working time managing

21 November 2019 4 min. read

UK supervisors are spending most of their working day on meetings and admin, according to a new study. The research also found that less than half an hour each day is spent on active management of their teams.

In an era of digital disruption, tightening competition for talent and flagging workplace mental health, the leadership provided by managers and supervisors has become more important than ever. The best leaders are those who are able to tune into their ability to remain calm, think clearly in stressful situations and articulate their message in a way that turns the hearts and minds of others towards the best possible future. However, the majority of a manager’s time is not actually spent embodying these qualities, according to new research.

A new study from Reading-based consultancy Managementors has found that most supervisors and managers are spending far less time on active management than they would like. Based on an average working day of 7.5 hours and surveys of the working practices of over 100 supervisors and managers, the firm found that workplace leaders also drastically underestimate how much of their day is spent in meetings and on admin.

Managers spend less than half of working time managing

'Active management' is managers or supervisors directing their staff, making plans, and following up on them. It is essential to ensure not only the productivity of a company, but the welfare of staff, and as a result it is the area of work most supervisors and managers would like to spend the most time on. Unfortunately, both groups admit they don’t spend as much time on active management as they would like, though they seem to be underestimating by how much. Managers guess around 24%, supervisors estimate 29%, but actually they spend just 6% of their time on active management.

By contrast, supervisors and managers are spending more time on admin – emails, timesheets, holiday requests and so on – than they would prefer. Managers would ideally spend 17% of their time on this matter, and supervisors 16%, but in actual fact they spend 19% of their working days on admin. Meanwhile, training – which is essential to maintain a workforce equipped with the relevant skills to compete in a digital market – is pushed drastically down on the agenda. While managers and supervisors would ideally spend one-tenth of their time on the matter though, they were never observed by Managementors researchers to be delivering training.


At the same time, when it came to ‘Other’ activities – largely made up of sitting in meetings – managers and supervisors were seemingly oblivious to how much these procedures were eating into their productivity. According to the figures, managers believe they spend 3% of their day on these activities, and supervisors estimate 7%, but in reality they spend a stunning 39% of their time engaged in this kind of work.

“The reality is that supervisors are doing very little active management of employees in the field, and even worse are spending a major portion of their working day on a variety of tasks which, potentially should be done elsewhere in the business,” said David Beggs, Practice Director at Managementors. “Such tasks do need to be done, but for supervisors to be doing them raises important questions about productivity and what constitutes leadership in modern business.”

Recent analysis from the Office for National Statistics revealed that productivity in the UK fell at its fastest annual pace in five years in the April-to-June quarter. The figures, calculated by output per hour, fell by 0.5%, following zero growth in the two previous quarters. Thanks to the nation’s weak productivity, the last two years have seen the UK’s economy endure its weakest growth figures since the country endured a double-dip recession in 2012.

Beggs added, “There’s a clear disconnect between what people think they spend their working day doing and what they actually do. Productivity depends on many things, such as strong leadership and providing clear direction and training to employees, but this is not happening as much as it needs to. People are spending far too long on meetings which have little output, email, admin and even stepping down to carry out the work of the people they are meant to be managing and it’s time for UK businesses to have a hard look at how they operate.”