The Afternoon Crash: Assessing Workplace Productivity and Roadblocks
- Human Resources
6 min. Read
Last Updated: 01/20/2020
Table of Contents
There is a phenomenon (also known as the “afternoon crash”) that affects the daily workplace stamina of the average worker.
A third of Americans work 45 hours or more per week, creating an environment that could lead to burnout or exhaustion. When the body and mind are under pressure, it can be harder for workers to focus and complete high-quality projects. This makes it even more pressing for employers to be concerned with the well-being of their employees and to understand when they are the most productive.
In a survey of 1,000 employees, we gained insight into worker productivity, how responsive they are in meetings, and their methods for fighting the afternoon slump. Read on to learn about our findings.
Productive mornings, unproductive afternoons
For employees surveyed, the most common window of productivity was between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. Additionally, workers were likely to schedule complex tasks during their productive hours and leave simpler tasks for later hours in the workday.
Research shows that morning workers are inherently more productive than people who complete their work later in the day.
We found that approximately 71% of employees attempted to schedule their workday around their most productive hours, highlighting their own understanding of their best operating hours.
Changes in working hours or workload can even affect our mood, eating habits, and general wellness, all impacting how effectively and efficiently we work. When employees are hurting physically, mentally, or emotionally, it can be hard to stay on task. Helping employees focus involves opening up communication with workers to make sure they are keeping healthy and alert.
Improving meeting culture
Meetings are a fact of life for many offices. Besides an opportunity for employee feedback, employers can deliver important directives and share new information about operations.
However, their effectiveness can be impeded by poor leadership, distractions, and a lack of interest. Another factor that can impact a meeting’s success is when it is held.
The highest number of respondents (nearly 38%) attended meetings in the morning, more than midday and afternoon results combined. Our survey results reflected that it is common for workers to be more productive and complete advanced tasks earlier in the workday, and these traits may support adopting earlier meetings into the company daily schedule.
Further, we discovered that meeting time had a huge impact on how much someone was likely to contribute: Over 1 in 5 employees said they would participate more actively in work meetings if these collaborations were scheduled at a different time.
If you don’t see success with your meetings (or your employees are like the nearly 20% of respondents who aren’t at all active in them), you may want to reconsider the timing of when you hold meetings. This can adapt to the times employees work best, especially if your team has a big project deadline or needs to hit a timely benchmark.
When considering changes to scheduling meetings, however, be aware of how a change could affect the daily operations. A third of respondents weren’t completely certain how a schedule change to meetings would impact their participation or involvement.
Understanding employee habits and strengths are key traits of a good manager, so it would behoove your managers to poll their workers to see what schedule works best.
Getting over the crash
Over 8 in 10 employees surveyed experienced the “afternoon crash.”
Respondents reported experiencing the “afternoon crash” an average of 3.2 days per week. This means that more than half of their workweek is impacted by a loss of focus in the afternoon, a reality for workers who rely on positive feedback regarding their efficiency and productivity.
Employee exhaustion is a very real issue. Burnout across generations is prevalent, calling attention to the need to address issues of productivity and focus so that employees are well-rested and focused at all times during the workday.
Tips for overcoming the afternoon crash
Lapses in productivity happen to everyone, and attempting to halt this feeling can make an impact on an employee’s efficiency.
So, what can workers do to defeat the dreaded “afternoon crash”? How can employers create an environment that is more conducive to productivity?
Approximately 57% reported turning to a caffeinated drink for relief. While having caffeine can be effective (and backed by survey respondents who said they use it to improve productivity), the effects can plateau, and side effects may persist.
One common thread throughout the methods involved a physical reset or environment change: 29.6% of employees who had tried stretching to help with the afternoon crash said it was effective.
Remember: Even a small effort can make a difference. Simply taking a break from a task proved to be effective for 35% of workers who had tried this tactic.
As over 70% of employees surveyed said they try to schedule their workday around their most productive hours, employers should consider recognizing what employees may be trying to show them.
Supervisors, of course, support workers in their professional lives, but a crucial skill is being able to recognize when an employee is less effective than usual and working with the employee to solve the issue.
A late-in-the-day loss in focus could afflict workers any day of the week, so it could benefit employers to promote a clear workspace, conscious breaks, and a regular refocusing on objectives.
Looking out for employees can start with small actions such as observing their habits. The methods will vary by team and employer, but the end goal should remain the same regardless of the tactic: Keep employees motivated and determine their pain points.
To learn more tips on communicating with employees and finding a balance between company goals and the health and well-being of workers, head over to Paychex. We’re here to help guide your company in employee benefits, insurance, and HR services to help your business thrive while also taking care of your people. Visit Paychex today.
We surveyed 1,000 people about their work productivity and experiences with energy crashes, particularly in the afternoon. Respondents were 51.5% men and 48.5% women. Three respondents identified as different gender identities or chose not to disclose their gender.
Respondents were asked to identify the time periods during the day when they’re most productive, least productive, complete complex tasks, and complete simple tasks. We identified the windows that were most common in each of these categories, and those are presented in our final visualization of the data.
Respondents reported what methods and techniques they had used to combat the afternoon crash during the workday. They were able to select every method they had tried, so percentages will not add to 100. Respondents were then asked to rate the efficacy of the methods they had tried. They rated the efficacy on the following scale:
- Very ineffective
- Somewhat ineffective
- Neither ineffective nor effective
- Somewhat effective
- Very effective
Somewhat effective, effective, and very effective were grouped together in our final visualization of the data as the percentage of people rating each method as effective.
The data we are presenting rely on self-reporting. Common issues with self-reported data include exaggeration, telescoping, attribution, and selective memory. For example, when responding to questions on methods used to combat afternoon fatigue and the efficacy of methods, respondents may have responded based on selective memories of using them, rather than considering the entire breadth of their experiences.
Fair use statement
Whether it’s the afternoon crash or something else, powering through the workday can be difficult. If you know someone who could benefit from our findings, feel free to share for any noncommercial reuse. We do ask that you link back here so that they can read the entire study and review the methodology. It also gives our contributors credit for their work.