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Administration taking up a third of working year

Office workers spend 636.6 hours a year completing administrative or repetitive tasks

UK workers spend almost 80 working days per year on administrative tasks, according to research from enterprise software company Unit4.

The survey of 200 UK employees found that office workers spend 636.6 hours a year completing administrative or repetitive tasks, which is roughly one-third of the working year.

The research calculated that this is costing the UK service industry $534 billion (£411.4 billion), calculated by multiplying the total hours spent on admin by people working in service industries as a percentage of the total working population (data from OECD) by average hourly wage (data from World Bank). The cost of lost productivity to the service industry in the 11 countries surveyed was more than $5 trillion (£3.85 trillion) annually. The US was found to have the largest administrative cost annually ($2.87 trillion or £2.21 trillion), while Singapore had the lowest administrative costs in monetary terms ($26.3 billion or £20.28 billion).

UK respondents said they spent 70% of their time on their primary job role. But the most productive workers from the countries surveyed are in Norway – spending 81% of their time on primary duties – followed closely by Sweden (78%) and France (76%).

Stephan Sieber, CEO of Unit4, said that organisations will need to make changes to become more productive. “We commissioned the research to understand the views of workers on how adopting new technology to help automate non-value add tasks could help them be more productive,” he said.

“To compete effectively for talent in the future service organisations will need to make systems automated and self-driving to ensure productivity, but also to help younger workers better engage at work by delivering them a similar experience to what they are used to at home. This will help them to feel they are spending their time on the right things; on their primary work and being effective."

He warned of the dangers of inaction. “Left unchanged the situation could be crippling for business, particularly services organisations that rely on the strengths and output of their people,” he said.

Cary Cooper, 50th anniversary professor of organizational psychology and health at Manchester Business School, warned that an overload of paperwork can affect employees. "If they chose their career because they wanted to help people – for example they became a policeman to protect the public, or a teacher to teach children – then this unnecessary paperwork damages their job satisfaction," he told HR magazine.

"A lot of this administration is for legal purposes, to leave a paper trail," he added. "I would estimate that of the 30% of time spent on it only around 10% of that is needed, and we could dump 20% of it. It's up to HR to figure out how to streamline jobs to save the time and money being wasted."

HR magazine and IBM's research found last year that only 17% of HR professionals get to spend a lot of time working on their KPIs. Read HR's free Reclaim Your Time ebook for tips on how to improve your personal productivity at work.